City’s Taxicab Cap Still Unconstitutional, But…
But cabbies won’t be able
to apply for new permits just yet.
She’s stayed her decision
until the Court of Appeals takes up the case, if or when the city decides to
That said, Carroll said
she still couldn’t find a valid reason for the city’s very stringent 321-permit
cap, which allows permit holders to sell a permit on the private market. A
permit is now said to cost about $150,000, shutting out most interested buyers.
The combination of the cap
and the transferability on the private market is unconstitutional, Carroll
said. The combination of the two created a valuable asset while preventing new
applicants from obtaining a new permit through the city.
The city’s reasoning for
keeping the cap “misses the whole mark of the decision” she made in April, she
Carroll could have decided
that the city immediately take applications for permits, but she decided to
stay her decision until the Appeals Court acts on it.
Anthony Sanders, the
attorney for the cab drivers, said that the city could develop a new permitting
system that would be constitutionally sound.
The city has had plenty of
opportunities to do so. The current system has been on the books for more than
20 years and Ald. Bob Bauman, seeing the writing on the wall as this case wound
its way through the courts, earlier this year proposed lifting the cap
gradually so that 100 new permits would be issued within 10 years. The
secondary, private market for permit sellers would still be in place. And it's this secondary market combined with the cap that Judge Carroll had a difficult time upholding as unconstitutional.
The cab drivers’ attorney,
Sanders, had argued earlier that Bauman’s proposal would still be unconstitutional
because it would continue to grandfather in the old permits—the majority are
held by the Sanfelippo family’s businesses—while still shutting out interested
In the end, though,
Bauman’s proposal went nowhere since the Common Council decided to punt and not
alienate the Sanfelippos. The council voted to study its options, with a
report due back in November.
This morning, Carroll said
she wouldn’t wait for the Common Council to act, since that could take forever.
The next step is with the Court of Appeals.
This case has had
fascinating politics from the start.
You have the cab drivers,
who are using a libertarian public interest law firm to strike down a
permitting system that has created what amounts to a monopoly with cab drivers as "urban sharecroppers."
So you’d think that the
Sanfelippo family, including conservative Republican state Rep. Joe Sanfelippo,
would be arguing against this monopoly and for a free market system that helps small-business owners and entrepreneurs—or at least
a system developed by the legislative branch of government, not the judicial
branch. You know, those pesky activist judges.
And you’d think that the
Common Council would jump at the chance to develop its own solution, instead of
giving a judge the opportunity to develop city policy.
But the Sanfelippos and
the Common Council worked to preserve the current permitting system, even
though Mike Sanfelippo told me that getting rid of the permitting system
wouldn’t harm his business at all.
Judge Carroll seemed fair
but firm this morning in rejecting the city’s arguments. (Well, Assistant City
Attorney Adam Stephens didn’t have much to work with, since his arguments were
guided by the Common Council’s failure to act.)
Now it’s up to the Common Council to take advantage of the window of opportunity provided by Judge Carroll and break with the Sanfelippo family. The council is going to have to develop a permitting system that doesn’t lead to $150,000 private-market permit sales while enriching one politically powerful family. Or the Appeals Court will do it for them.