A college kid trying to earn a few bucks over the summer by accepting tips for rides on his golf cart on Peaks Island found an advocate this week in the form of a conservative public policy think tank.

The Maine Heritage Policy Center, which has long supported initiatives involving lower taxes and less government spending and regulation, hasn’t had much luck at the ballot box in recent years. Its two referendums on TABOR and another on car excise tax reduction have all failed to garner majority support.

So, can it find more backing in court? That question may be answered now that the city says it won’t revisit an ordinance it passed protecting the official city-sponsored taxi service on Peaks at the expense of people like Matt Rand.

Matt Rand, 19, is a student whose highly unofficial service was seen by the city as taking needed business away from the one it sponsored with a $20,000 grant to buy a vehicle.

Like an old Western sheriff telling the young gunslinger that “This island isn’t big enough for both of us!”, the City Council passed rules to make people like Rand get a license and expensive insurance that would wipe out the voluntary tips that made his venture profitable.

Now, MHPC is stepping into the street behind the kid while lugging its own firepower, the threat of a lawsuit that would challenge the new ordinance as an unconstitutional assault on economic freedom.

That may be a difficult case to make, because governments at all levels regulate and license all sorts of businesses, from barber shops and beauty parlors to paper companies and shipbuilders. Still, most of those firms don’t have to face government-subsidized competitors, a factor that gives the city the appearance of a bully swatting a weaker rival with the full weight of the law.

The city won’t back down because it says the summer revenues that Rand is siphoning off are needed to carry the official service over the winter, when Rand will be back in school and golf-cart riding is a far-less-pleasant experience.

Who has the best argument? Right now, the old sheriff has prevailed, but the MHPC’s itchy trigger finger may create a showdown on the dusty streets of Peaks.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.