Balance Sheet

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Assets

Zip Drive. Commerce Secretary Mickey Kantor tries to make cyberspace the next free-trade zone. The White House will allow duty-free sales of software and services over the Internet. And Kantor will press trading partners to reciprocate. One hurdle: Will the administration relax export controls on encryption so that Internet transactions can be more secure?

Ringing Endorsement. Long-distance telephone competition reaches Mexico. An alliance between MCI and Mexico's largest banking group offers business customers an alternative to Telmex's former long-distance monopoly. By January 1, as many as seven other companies will offer service to homes and businesses. Telmex responds by offering its first consumer discounts.

Hop Heads. Congress may roll back the 21-year-old drinking age next year. Rep. Scott Klug (R-Wisc.) lines up Republicans and New Democrats to back repeal as an issue of federalism and common sense: If you're old enough to serve in the military, supporters say, why can't you legally down a cold one?

Taking Charge. Grassroots tyrants, beware: Illinois courts tell regulatory agencies and legislative bodies to stop "taking" private property without compensating owners. When Amoco tried to convert a gas station to a convenience store, the Village of Schaumburg demanded that the oil company surrender 20 percent of its property so it could widen the road. The Illinois Court of Appeals rules for Amoco, saying "A city council can take property just as well as a planning commission can."

Liabilities

Idle Chatter. The welfare reform bill Bill Clinton signed on August 22 requires anyone on public assistance to find work within two years. But the minimum wage increase he signed two days earlier will make it less likely anyone will have positions to offer. Cutting the minimum wage (or the payroll tax) would have helped businesses create more entry-level jobs. But either would have infuriated union bosses, on whom the Democrats depend for campaign dollars and volunteers.

Document Fraud. In Poland, social security taxes are 48 percent of payroll and frequently evaded. To catch cheaters, the government will start to pull the passports of employers who don't pay on time, focusing first on small businesses. We hope Congress doesn't catch on. Imagine what might happen if U.S. authorities used the same tactics to go after people who fall behind with child support, employers suspected of hiring illegal immigrants, stores that might sell tobacco to minors.

Shark Bait. If you play sports in California and get hurt, don't call a physical therapist; get a lawyer. Hundreds of well-heeled athletes, including Bo Jackson and Joe Montana, have received tax-free benefits from the state's workers' comp program. Former San Diego Chargers lineman Ron Mix, now a personal injury attorney, tells the San Diego Union- Tribune, "I can't imagine [athletes] care what the public thinks because they have an absolute right to it."

Gas Attack. Even if Republicans hold Congress, a second Clinton term could cause regulatory mischief. Administration enviros have no intention of abandoning international commitments to reduce greenhouse gases, possibly leading to new energy taxes or fuel rationing. And the Environmental Protection Agency–without citing any health threats–may reduce allowable standards for ground-level ozone, triggering mandates for ever- cleaner automobiles, gasoline, home heating oil, etc.

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