GOP Moves to Halt Extensive Regulation of Entrepreneurs

Until this week, local governments across Wisconsin were free to slap local entrepreneurs with a licensing requirement – and associated fee – for just about any venture local bureaucrats deemed worthy of regulation and taxation. That’s about to change thanks to legislation passed by Republican lawmakers in Madison. The reform, SB 81, stops local officials from imposing more regulations on aspiring businessmen and women and repeals a unique City of Milwaukee requirement that banned professional photographers from snapping photos for a fee unless they were licensed by the city.

Professions that currently require a state license, such as doctor, electrician, and plumber for example, will still be regulated by the state. The new reform doesn’t eliminate accountability for businesses or self-employed individuals; it merely puts an end to the further duplicitous regulation of some lines of work.

In the City of Milwaukee, not only were photographers required to pay a $100 fee to the city for the privilege of carrying a camera around and making a little money, but numerous other home-grown and small businesses were forced to pay up at City Hall before they attempted to provide a good or service. While SB 81 only eliminated the photographer license requirement, the list of licenses in Milwaukee helped contribute to the argument that the state should stop further local occupational licensing.

According to City of Milwaukee budget documents, in 2014 the city spent $551,493 employing 12 people to oversee its licensing division, which offers licenses for everything from bars to farmer’s market stands. Approximately 42 different occupational or retail licenses are offered in the City of Milwaukee, and around 30 licenses relate to specific ventures that don’t involve alcohol or tobacco.

Milwaukee license costs vary depending on the business being regulated. A basic farmer’s market stand license costs $35 if you are looking to sell vegetables or other raw products, but it can run as high as $170 if you are looking to sell beverages and snacks. If you decide to get a license at the last minute there are additional fees that apply (up to $200 total). Need a scale to weigh the produce you are selling? You’ll need an additional weights and measure’s license ($55). Don’t forget to include a detailed sketch of your stand for city officials who need to know exactly what you are selling and how you are displaying your wares.

Added up, a would-be vendor could pay up to $425 to the City of Milwaukee just to have a small stand at a farmer’s market selling food and produce to the public.

A general handyman needs to pay $250 for a license so he can offer to paint a room in your house. If you are looking to sell some ice cream don’t forget to fork over $75 so the City can approve of your plan. Before you buy and sell coins out of your basement you’ll need to pay $150 annually.

The full list of City of Milwaukee licenses can be viewed here.

For its modest investment of $551,493 in employees, the City of Milwaukee collected $4.4 million in license revenue in 2014. City budget documents don’t break down the revenue by specific licenses, but food and alcohol licenses dominated the revenue stream.

Other cities in Wisconsin also issue licenses for small enterprises. In Green Bay, a license to sell ice cream costs $350, for example.

Eric Bott, the executive director of Americans for Prosperity – Wisconsin, praised the passage of licensing reform saying, “Requiring young entrepreneurs to buy a license from the government to start their businesses selling photographs or braiding hair is government overreach at its finest. Government should be helping these entrepreneurs to get ahead — not needlessly getting in their way.”