Duggan gives testimony before MO House in support of Airbnb

Joseph Duggan gave testimony to the Missouri House of Representatives on Feb. 11 in support of HR 473, legislation to pre-empt municipalities from killing Airbnb.

Duggan is a St. Louis-based entrepreneur, investor and strategic public affairs consultant. He is founder and CEO of C-Suite Strategic Counsel.

Here is a copy of his written testimony:

Mr. Chairman and Honorable Committee Members:

My name is Joseph Duggan. I’m a homeowner and I live with my family in the city of St. Louis near the beautiful Missouri Botanical Garden, one of the top attractions for visitors to our state. I was born and raised in St. Louis. After graduating from De Smet Jesuit High School in 1973, I went away for university studies and a long career in New York City and Washington, D.C., and elsewhere far away. I worked in diplomatic service and in appointments in the Reagan Administration and in the White House as speechwriter for the late President George H.W. Bush. My national and international career was capped by six years in Saudi Arabia, where I wrote speeches for the CEO of the world’s largest oil company, Aramco, and served as general editor of the company’s business plan.

Joseph Duggan, St. Louis entrepreneur, investor and strategic public affairs consultant
Joseph Duggan, St. Louis entrepreneur, investor and strategic public affairs consultant

When I reached mandatory retirement age at the Saudi oil company in 2015, I persuaded my wife and our young daughter to agree to move to my native St. Louis – a place they had never lived before. We all have a need for roots, and I want my daughter to experience the quality of family and community and cultural and educational life that makes St. Louis and all of Missouri such a treasure.

We always used to visit St. Louis, where my dear parents, the great public figures Martin and Mae Duggan, lived until their passing in 2015; therefore, we were aware of some of what would be in store for us in relocating to St. Louis. We knew very well about the hollowing out of the inner city and the stagnation of growth even in St. Louis County. We knew also about the encouraging phenomenon of institutions such as CORTEX and Venture Café, fostering the development of start-up companies and a sense of community among entrepreneurs in every kind of business.

We were not, however, quite prepared for some of the antagonism towards simple common sense and the benefits of free markets that we found in the case of petty but devastating local government over-regulation. As world travelers, we have been frequent and very satisfied guests in Airbnb accommodations. For ground transportation when we travel, Uber has been an indispensable convenience and money-saver.

It is hard to exaggerate the shock we encountered in 2015 in learning that Uber, Lyft and comparable enterprises were against the law in St. Louis and St. Louis County.

It was shameful that St. Louis was the last large metropolitan area in the United States to place an effective ban on Uber and Lyft.

As honorable members are aware, it took a considerable struggle, ultimately successful, to allow Uber et al. to operate freely and provide their extraordinary benefits for transportation, employment, and increased income in metro St. Louis.

Since my family and I returned from overseas to Missouri in 2015, Airbnb and comparable services have grown tremendously in our state. This new industry provides unprecedented convenience and positive travel experiences for business and personal travelers to our state. The industry also provides significant income to families and revenue to the state and municipal treasuries.

HB 473, introduced by Representative Derek Grier of St. Louis County, is urgently needed to prevent Missouri municipalities large and small from disastrous decisions that could kill entrepreneurial dreams, stifle the rehabilitation and maintenance of our venerable but endangered housing stock, and rob income from working families that want to work even harder for the sake of their children and communities.

Mr. Chairman and Honorable Committee Members:

Municipal ordinances that restrict, and virtually prohibit, Airbnb and comparable services are just as unreasonable as an ordinance that would force the shutdown of CORTEX or Venture Café, and comparably devastating to our economic future.

If the Missouri General Assembly fails to pre-empt municipalities from enacting job-destroying and income-killing regulations against short-term rentals, the General Assembly should prepare to face higher costs for Medicaid and other state and federal welfare programs. For some, hosting an Airbnb is an enjoyable hobby. For many Missourians, it is the lifeline helping families make ends meet and keeping them off public assistance.

By way of analogy to the Interstate Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution, the General Assembly of Missouri has a duty to our citizens and taxpayers to promote common-sense freedom for small businesses. Missouri must not be a patchwork of petty fiefdoms that strangle intrastate, and for that matter, interstate, commerce.

The General Assembly has an obligation to all Missourians to prohibit municipalities from imposing regulations that prevent wholesome and productive enterprises from surviving or even coming into existence.

I urge members of the Committee to vote unanimously in favor of this vital legislation and to make it their cause to promote its full enactment as soon as possible.

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