I haven't paid much attention to Proposition 4--a Community Bill of Rights--since I'm not a city resident. Then a friend of mine asked, "What's up with that?" So I downloaded the complete text from the Envision Spokane site and perused the "Me", "We", "FAQ" and "Info" links for each right. Here's the first right:
FIRST - RESIDENTS HAVE THE RIGHT TO A LOCALLY-BASED ECONOMY.
Residents have the right to a locally-based economy to ensure local job creation and enhance local business opportunities. The right shall include the right to have local monies reinvested locally by lending institutions, and the right to equal access to capital, credit, contracts, incentives, and services for businesses owned by Spokane residents.
From the Envision Spokane FAQ on this right:
Don’t Residents Already Have This Right by Choosing to Buy Locally?
No. Everyone can choose to purchase goods and services from local businesses, but no one can exercise that choice if there are no locally produced goods and services. An individual’s right to decide where to spend money, therefore, may become meaningless unless an environment is created in which locally-owned businesses can exist and flourish. This Right seeks to create that environment by requiring a re-circulation of local capital locally, and by providing an equal playing field for competition by locally owned businesses.
Wouldn’t the City be Required to Enforce this Right?
No. Under these Charter changes, the City could choose to take action to guarantee this right, but is not mandated to do so. City government, however, would be forced to respect this right, and if City officials violated the right by creating an unequal playing field for locally-owned businesses - by establishing conditions through contracting, bidding, or tax incentives that favor non-locally owned businesses - then owners of locally owned businesses could force the City to eliminate those policies by using this provision.
Doesn’t this Require Banks to Loan Locally?
Yes. The Right would require lending institutions to reinvest “local monies” into the local economy. What constitutes “local monies” and “local investment” would be determined if a dispute arose over a refusal by a lending institution to keep local capital local. Those terms have been left vague in the Charter provisions so that their definitions can be determined on a case-by-case basis in concrete disputes, and so that those definitions can change to keep pace with economic developments. The Right would not require banks to abandon existing lending requirements – such as ability to pay and credit worthiness – but it would require banks to place an emphasis on local re-circulation of local capital.
Would a Private Business Have to Ask for Bids from Locally-Owned Businesses?
Yes, but only if there were locally-owned businesses that satisfy the needs of the private business. This provision wouldn’t require the private business to re-design their request for bids, or request for proposals, just to qualify locally-owned businesses for the bidding process, but it would require that the private business open their bidding and proposal process to locally-owned businesses that would satisfy their needs. The Right establishes an equal opportunity playing field, which enables locally-owned businesses to compete openly, equally, and fairly with non-local businesses.
While the idea being promoted here is a wonderful sentiment, there are some serious flaws. First of all, "the right to a locally-based economy to ensure local job creation and enhance local business opportunities" is not mandated but "the right to have local monies reinvested locally by lending institutions" is? That is an arbitrary position with no basis in the text of the proposition.
What conditions need to be in effect so that "owners of locally owned businesses could force the City to eliminate those policies by using this provision"? Since Proposition 4 does not create a commission, body, council, or some type of determining authority, it will be left up to the courts. Is it unfair when the city gives a big box store a tax break to build an unsightly parking lot and store? I think so and when it happens every owner of a locally-owned business should go to the city council meetings and demand the same tax break. They should use their membership in the Chamber of Commerce to apply pressure. They should band together and let the city and people know they're getting screwed. Is the big box store tax break illegal? No. Does Proposition 4 make it illegal? Yes...no...maybe. The only way to find out for sure will be to bring a lawsuit.
The statement "Those terms have been left vague in the Charter provisions so that their definitions can be determined on a case-by-case basis in concrete disputes, and so that those definitions can change to keep pace with economic developments." raises all kinds of warning flags. Laws of any kind should not be purposely vague so that definitions can be determined on a case-by-case basis. Where does that determination take place? Again, this will be left up to the courts. Do you want a judge to legislate from the bench? Just pass a vague law that's open to interpretation as it tries to "keep pace with economic developments." A smart judge will entertain and grant any motion to dismiss from the defendant(s) because the law is written so vague she cannot possibly determine what constitutes “local monies” and “local investment” based on the text.