Telling the Municipal Mafia No

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Apple, the consumer electronics company, has outgrown its headquarters in Cupertino, California. It wants to build a bigger, better campus. That's when the shakedown started. You know the kind: "What are you going to u2018give back' to the community?"

Thanks to the success of iPods, iPhones, iTunes, iPads and Macs, Apple's headquarters building in Cupertino is woefully too small. So the company bought some nearby land and in early June co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs went before the City Council to unveil plans for the new headquarters. It's an innovative design that looks like the mother ship has landed right there in Cupertino, a ring shaped building around a huge central courtyard area. The new headquarters will accommodate 12,000 employees, up from only 2,600 at its present campus.

Jobs displayed a project that any city would love to have. The park-like campus increases the landscaping at the location by 350 percent, almost doubles the trees on the site, and reduces the surface parking by 90 percent.

After his presentation of the stunning project, the very first question from the very first council member was, "What's in it for us?"

Apparently, making innovative and life-enriching products that serve the needs of millions of people and being the largest taxpayer and premier employer in the city isn't enough; what else can we shake you down for?

Thousands of businesses dealing with thousands of governments at all levels run head on into these rackets. It's like dealing with Tony Soprano: "That's a real nice expansion plan you got there. It'd sure be too bad if something happened to it."

In other words, what can we extort from you in return for approving your project? How about a big donation to some official's favorite cause, or why don't we make you pay for some bad public art, chosen by committee with no taste? In Apple's case it was, "how about giving us all free Wi Fi?"

Jobs’ reply should be repeated whenever these shakedowns start. He said, "You see, I'm a simpleton. I've always had this view that we pay taxes and the city should do those things. Now if we can get out of paying taxes, I'd be glad to put up Wi Fi."

Or as Jobs said to the Cupertino city council in so many words, "We can always sell off the land, take our little company, and go somewhere else."

That stopped the shakedown attempt dead in its tracks. Clearly, we need more CEOs like Jobs.

American businesses have been packing up and going somewhere else for years now as they seek to escape shakedowns. After all there is always another state mobster at the door wanting taxes, creating regulations, demanding inspections, setting wages, mandating benefits, restricting business, controlling hiring, and imposing costs. Maybe it will take a further slide in American living standards and the squeeze of a higher unemployment rate for the people to wake up and put a stop to the Tony Soprano state.

Charles Goyette [send him mail] is the author of the New York Times bestseller The Dollar Meltdown: Surviving the Impending Currency Crisis with Gold, Oil, and Other Unconventional Investments, now available in paperback.

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