Balance Sheet

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Assets

Slicing Bacon. U.S. District Judge Charles Legge strikes down California's private version of Davis- Bacon. (See "Exclusionary Rule," Aug./Sept.) Legge dumps three Northern California laws that mandate union wages for private construction projects. Instead of protecting the public from incompetent workers, the judge writes, the laws are "economic legislation [primarily] for the benefit of…certain unions."

Dirty Water? Three decades ago, fish couldn't live in the filthy Thames river. Now Thames Water, a private sewage-disposal company, restores the river and makes a profit. Sportsmen caught more than 100 species of fish in the cleaner river last year; riverbank residents now say the water is almost drinkable. Thames Water management also advises water privatizers in the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, and Africa.

Private Line. The federal government will auction off 200 MHz of its broadcasting spectrum to firms selling cellular phones and pagers. Bills introduced by Sen. Ted Stevens (R–Alaska) and Rep. Don Ritter (R–Pa.) mandate frequency auctions. And the president promises to veto any proposals to give the frequencies away.

Salvaged. Junk bonds rebound. Despite record defaults, prominent junk-heavy companies are dumping debt and making money. RJR Nabisco and Safeway now sell common stock. Dallas's Morningstar Foods buys back its bonds. Fortune's Gary Hector notes that the current market promises "adequate returns for taking on very high risks."

Liabilities

Soak the Proles. A study prepared for Sen. Connie Mack (R–Fla.) and Rep. Olympia Snowe (R–Maine) shows that last year's tax on luxury items costs the federal treasury nearly $5.00 for every buck it collects. Lower boat, airplane, and jewelry sales have cut 9,400 manufacturing jobs, costing the feds $19 million in lost income taxes and extra unemployment benefits. But I'm sure Dick Gephardt and George Mitchell feel better.

Border Patrol. You visit California's wine country and want to order a precocious Cabernet to enjoy in your Ohio home. Forget it. Federal law prohibits the Postal Service from shipping alcohol. And most states won't let out-of-state vintners sell to consumers unless they buy a license and find a local distributor. Wine industry consultant Vic Motto tells the Los Angeles Times: "Every state is like dealing with a foreign country."

Executive Odors. White House-imposed regulations force private companies that get federal contracts to use hiring goals and timetables—a.k.a. quotas. Indeed, Fortune's Daniel Seligman reports, the Labor Department arm-twisted nearly 3,000 companies into hiring by the numbers in fiscal 1990 alone. President Bush could nix these race-based rules. But he would rather talk about a color-blind society than actually promote one.

Pigs in Space. Sen. Dale Bumpers (D–Ark.) tries to cut funding for the space station to $100 million; the heads of 14 scientific societies back him up. (See "Beyond Tomorrowland," May.) But the Senate approves $2 billion in subsidies for next year. Bumpers says this orbiting hamhock "is not going to have any scientific payback." Astronaut Sen. Jake Gam (R–Utah) retorts, "I personally am offended by these scientific groups."

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