The State’s Double Standard

Groups looking to overturn the Federal law banning the sale of commercial services at state rest areas tried to convince Congressional Quarterly’s readers that rest areas are the victim of a double standard: those that are allowed to sell commercial services directly along the Interstate right of way and those that are not.  (Congressional Quarterly: “Rest Stops: The Case for Interstate Commerce” Oct. 11, 2010.)


But the real double standard is the push by state governments to change the Federal rules concerning Interstate Highway competition to their own advantage. And the real victims will be the businesses and local communities that will suffer if these states are allowed to proceed.


Congress banned the sale of commercial services at rest areas to foster business and community development near the Interstate Highway. Congress feared that motorists traveling the highways would bypass small towns that needed businesses, jobs and local tax revenues to thrive.


Now, revenue-hungry states like Arizona and New Jersey want to change those rules and lease rest areas to commercial operators. By leasing rest areas to large, international entities like HMS Host or The Carlyle Group, states plan to balance their budgets on the backs of local businesses.


There is a reason states are facing strong opposition from truck stops, convenience stores, gasoline stations and restaurant operators: If states are allowed to steer highway motorists directly into their own pockets, what’s to become of the existing businesses and the local communities they support?


It’s not hard to understand what will happen. Existing businesses lose customers. This cuts local tax revenues for local public services. Businesses cut jobs. Considering the current state of the U.S. economy, it’s hard to understand how anyone could view this as a winning plan.



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