A buddy of mine works in the heating and cooling industry. When his inspection and repair business is hopping, he enjoys good steak and fine wine. In rough times - and there have been plenty of those lately - he eats cereal for dinner.
Oh, how he would love a guaranteed money stream. Maybe the state could mandate that everyone who owns a home, apartment complex or business pay 30 bucks a year for a heating and cooling system inspection. Yeah, that would be sweet!
That’s the honey of a deal North Carolina’s car-repair facilities get. Every year, every car - old and new - must get inspected for potential emissions and safety issues. The cost is $30 per vehicle, with the vast majority of the $100 million plus collected annually going to garage owners.
Most states have realized these inspections are shams - classic money grabs by overreaching governments - and only 17 states require them. Even South Carolina is ahead of us on this one, having dropped their inspection program a few years ago.
Cars have been made very well for at least two decades now, and there is little justification for such a sweeping government mandate. To make matters worse, there have been far too many cases of corruption: garages finding problems that don’t exist and charging car owners for repairs; shops actually finding problems but taking payola under the table to pass offending vehicles; lawmakers benefiting through ownership stakes in repair shops.
Many N.C. politicians realize the law smells as rotten as a bad catalytic converter. Pretty much every year, some propose getting rid of it. At the very least, many think newer vehicles should be exempt; after all, how many 2011 cars really have emissions and safety issues in 2012?
Two weeks ago, the N.C. House Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee proposed no inspections for cars three years old and newer. It wasn't what we really needed - scrapping the law all together - but at least it was a start.
As happens every time, however, garage owners, parts suppliers and other interested parties mobilized to protect their cash cow.
Politicians being politicians, they caved in to the special interests again. The provision died in committee, and we’ll have to keep forking over our $30 even for our near-new cars to receive unnecessary inspections.
As Sen. Jerry W. Tillman, a Randolph County Republican, told the Charlotte Observer: "I know a lot of people who do this, and they sell some gas on the side, but most of their profit comes from these inspections. We have 7,500 small businesses who do these inspections."
Don’t blame the car-repair folks, who understandably want the easy money to keep rolling in. Aren’t our elected officials, regardless of party, supposed to be looking out for overburdened taxpayers?
Democrats were in charge in North Carolina for decades and they, too, consistently gave in to the garage-owner lobby. Then again, didn’t our fine citizens vote for a bunch of Republicans, such as Tillman, to get rid of business as usual? Isn’t the GOP against government mandates? Isn't the GOP for the rights of individuals?
If we're going to have mandates that prop up single industries, why stop at car-repair shops when so many business owners would benefit from a little legislative love (and would gladly make campaign contributions in return)?
My friend who does heating and cooling repair wants lawmakers to know that faulty central-air systems can leak toxic fumes outside and lead to illnesses in homes and businesses. Cha-ching! Sign him up for the money grab!
Bikes with bad brakes can result in severe injuries and deaths. Our precious children ride bikes. Shouldn’t we keep our kids safe - and buoy the bottom line for bicycle shops - by mandating $30 annual inspections?
In addition to stinking up an entire neighborhood, a leaky septic tank can cause environmental problems. Think of all the plumbing companies that would thrive under a $30-per-tank-per-year mandate.
Name a business, any business, and its owner would appreciate such a law. Why should owners of car-repair facilities get all the steak and wine?
Hope you enjoyed this edition of The Baldest Truth. That'll be $30, please.