ON THE AVENUES REWOUND: The Bridges Authority has no clothes.

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ON THE AVENUES REWOUND: The Bridges Authority has no clothes.

A weekly web column by Roger A. Baylor.

I seldom indulge in wholesale reprints, but will do so today in the wake of Monday’s triumphal announcement by the Bridges Authority of its preference for tolling rates. This column originally was published in the newspaper on November 18, 2010. Almost 16 months later, there is neither evidence of an economic impact study on Hoosier small business, nor any indication that the idea ever has been broached within the star chambers.  

“That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.”
— Christopher Hitchens

“The future is never more important than to a people on the verge of a cataclysm.”
— Nathaniel Philbrick

I’m the co-owner of an independent Hoosier small business. Teaching, selling and living better beer are my workday preferences, and admittedly other “minor” details occasionally elude me. However, after two decades in the food and beer business, pristine clarity periodically emerges from the gloaming.

Based on samplings of my experience, permit me to submit the following propositions.

1. We’ve always tended to our Southern Indiana backyards, but as an independent, niche-oriented small business, we’ve found that an aggressive focus on marketing to potential customers in Louisville is necessary for survival and growth.

2. Basic metropolitan area demographics justify this approach. Better beer costs more, but it resonates with a specific (and happily, ever expanding) demographic. Large numbers of our target demographic – higher incomes, better education, more extensive travel and life experience – live in more populous Louisville.

3. Marketing to a Louisville demographic never is easy, owing primarily to ancestral assumptions and clannish prejudices of the sort common along borders. Although those not engaged in bricks and mortar retailing might dismiss such intangibles as apocryphal, they’re far from imaginary to those who actually occupy the independent small business trenches.

4. I’ve accumulated sufficient knowledge about NABC’s consumer base to know that an important segment of it comes from Louisville. I am vindicated by knowing that a plan patiently pursued over a long period of years has proven worthy. Looking around, I can see that we’re not alone, and similar strategies are working for other independent Hoosier small businesses nearby.

5. Tolls on existing Ohio River bridges absolutely would alter this playing field to the detriment of independent Hoosier small businesses. Whether a quarter or $3 each way, the sum would constitute an increase on the price of Hoosier goods and services for Louisville consumers. Hoosiers crossing the Ohio to work would have no choice except to pay tolls (and have less money to spend at home), while Louisvillians would have the option to remain at home and spend discretionary monies in Kentucky.

6. Tolling burdens absolutely are tantamount to the erection of a physical barrier to interstate commerce. Furthermore, it is quite likely that even now, the mere mention of tolling is having a measurable influence on the decision making process of Louisville consumers. Clearly, I can see how tolling will damage my independent Hoosier small business, and I can plausibly infer that it will hurt my brethren just as badly.

Why, then, are Hoosiers acting against the interests of Hoosiers?

Numerous Southern Indiana businesses just like mine have done exactly what the reigning experts at organizations like One Southern Indiana endlessly preach at their costly seminars: To gather information, know the customer, plan strategies, and over time, nurture these strategies in pursuit of success.

We’ve all done so, and we’ve all learned from these many years of experience, but suddenly, overnight, what we’ve learned apparently no longer matters. It’s a commandment-level article of 1Si faith that business owners know what’s best for them – except now, when those of among us daring to demand evidence are ignored, muzzled, and dismissed as vitriolic cranks with hidden agendas and Communist leanings.

Most ironic of all: Ever since objections have arisen and evidence has been presented as to why tolls will negatively impact independent Hoosier small businesses, certain tolling advocates with no evidence … who have not spent two decades marketing their businesses as destinations Louisville customers … who are not engaged in bricks and mortar retail … who’ve never, ever been engaged in any semblance of independent small business … haughtily roll their eyes, gazing loftily at the clouds whenever it is suggested that maybe, just maybe, independent Hoosier small business owners actually know perfectly well that tolls on existing bridges will be catastrophic for them, destroying decades of outreach to Kentucky in one, huge $4 billion swoop.

Here’s the rub: You can believe the lessons of my business experience, or you can delete them, but throughout it all, amid high-handed imperiousness and ham-fisted diversionary tactics, not once has the Bridges Authority actually offered answers to these questions, as asked by independent Hoosier small business owners.

No economic impact study has been cited. No outside information has been referenced. Pins drop, crickets chirp, and the Bridges Authority can only mumble mantras about inevitability, accuse sincere questioners of spreading myths, and when rattled, hide behind St. Daniels’ billowing robes.

And so it is my contention, borne of experience, that the imposition of tolls by an unelected body with nary an independent small business owner seated on it will have the undeniably harmful effect of indirectly taxing independent Hoosier small businesses, burdening their Louisville and Greater Kentucky customers price hikes, denying needed sales tax revenue to Indiana, and isolating a sizeable market that we’ve finally come so close to capturing in recent years.

Because the Bridges Authority refuses to answer legitimate questions, we must conclude that as an entity, quasi-evangelical construction zeal is trumping every other human concern, and that independent Hoosier small businesses soon will be expected to meekly surrender, patronizingly receive pat on their heads, ceremoniously bow to their betters, and take the full brunt of the financial hit — for the greater “good” offered us by 1Si’s gospel of economic elitism and St. Daniels’ future D.C. job prospects.

There’s neither myth nor negativity in any of this, because after all, I have my evidence.

Where on earth is theirs?

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