Image: Are industry regulations, especially in plumbing and other trades, just monopoly-driven?
The Golden Hammer Staff Reports
Austin, February 22 – State disaster declarations and Texas Governor Greg Abbott have become the poster children for abuse of government power and the rewarding of political favors to friends in the guise of “public safety” or “public good.” Rather than bringing needed relief, disaster declarations seem to provide a means for government to expand its reach, skirt the Separation of Powers Doctrine in the Texas and United States Constitutions, and carefully tailor government-sponsored monopolies for political favors.
No profession has illustrated how government conveniently provides a politically-favored monopoly than plumbing
Since the mid-1990s, thanks to the work primarily of former state representative Kevin Brady, Republican of The Woodlands, who is now a United States Congressman, the State of Texas has a “sunset” review process in which the Legislature every two years reviews certain state agencies to determine whether they’re obsolete or whether they should continue to exist. While the process has resulted in the “sunset” of a few state agencies, it is fraught with corruption, political favoritism, and the protection of the “political class.” A terrible current example of the failure of the “sunset” process is the complete breakdown of the Texas Sunset Commission to provide any meaningful review of one of the worst state agencies presently in existence, the San Jacinto River Authority.
In 2019, however, the “sunset” review process had a rare moment in which it worked properly and briefly to the benefit of Texans who paid a price for a government-sponsored monopoly under the guise of the regulations of the Texas State Board of Plumbing Examiners. The Texas Sunset Commission and legislators who examined the plumbing examiners found a state agency very much in need of reform.
During the 86th Legislature, the issue became whether the State Board of Plumbing Examines should remain independent or whether they should become a part of the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation. Ultimately, the Texas House of Representatives failed to decide either way. Therefore, as the “sunset” review process intended, the Texas State Board of Plumbing Examiners met its “sunset” and would have gone out of existence.
Without licensing of plumbers, Texans could have hired any person they chose to provide them with plumbing services, especially in times of great demand for plumbers, rather than having to choose from extraordinarily expensive plumbing companies who enjoy a legal monopoly, which, of course, drives up the price of plumbing services under the laws of supply and demand. The big plumbing companies, however, vociferously lobbied Governor Greg Abbott for help. They wanted a special session of the Legislature to return to Austin to afford them a continuation of their legalized monopoly.
Governor Abbott, always seeming to follow the “money” in the form of political contributions, found another means by which to give the big and influential plumbing companies the continued State-sponsored monopoly they wanted. Abbott decreed, by executive order, on June 13, 2019, that, under the Hurricane Harvey disaster declaration, which was already two years old at the time, there was an “emergency” requiring continued regulation of plumbers, and, of course, a continuation of severe limitations on who may engage in the practice of plumbing.
Almost three years later, however, Governor Abbott’s utter hypocrisy has come to light. In response to the winter freeze of 2021 and ensuing problems with water pipes, as well as Abbott’s enjoyment of abusive executive powers allegedly allowing him to act without legislative authority, Abbott has begun to waive licensing requirements for trucks carrying alcohol, electricians, and nursing homes and assisted care facilities.
Of course, one of the first industries in which Governor Abbott has waived the licensing requirements is plumbers, due to the severe shortage of plumbers and plumbing materials, since practically every home and building in Texas has suffered from some problem with its pipes during the past week.
On Saturday, February 20, 2021, Abbott released the following announcement:
Governor Greg Abbott has waived certain regulations for certain registered and qualified Plumber’s Apprentices in Texas. These waivers allow a Plumber’s Apprentice, who has met all other qualifications, to temporarily perform plumbing repairs without ‘direct’ supervision by a licensed plumber so long as the qualified Plumber’s Apprentice works under the general supervision of a responsible master plumber.
“These waivers will help meet the plumbing needs of Texans who have experienced burst pipes and other related damage from the severe winter weather,” said Governor Abbott. “By allowing certain registered and qualified Plumber’s Apprentices to perform these repairs, we will be able to expedite the recovery process throughout our communities.”
Thus, Abbott has waived, by executive mandate, in the current “disaster,” the very same regulations he imposed during the Hurricane Harvey “disaster” in order to meet political demands.
The day before, on February 19, 2021, Abbott announced:
“Governor Abbott discussed actions that the State has already taken to help Texans with burst pipes and other plumbing-related damages from the winter weather. The Governor heard from members of the TSBPE on other ways the state can assist Texans in need, as well as ways to support plumbers who are working across the state of Texas. The Governor ended the call by extending the state of Texas’ gratitude for plumbers across the state, and assured TSBPE that the state will continue to do whatever it takes to help plumbers efficiently and safely serve their fellow Texans.”
Meanwhile, Texans just can’t wait for Governor Abbott’s latest political whim. Landscape companies, pool companies, and other contractors without plumbing licenses are providing emergency plumbing services to help Texans with burst pipes and other plumbing-related problems from the winter storm.
In 2017 and 2019, the disaster apparently required Abbott to impose plumbing regulations to protect the plumbing industry’s monopoly. In 2021, the disaster required Abbott to do the opposite. Both of those disasters would seem to have occurred during occasions when Texas might need protection from sharp business practices, which, of course, are the rationale by big plumbing companies to garner the State-sponsored monopoly they’ve enjoyed for a long time.
The irony of 2021’s winter storm and its aftermath is that Texans now see full frontal display that the plumbing monopoly is little more than an effort by big companies to raise prices when they can get away with doing so.