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Our Opinion: Baffled businesses step in to clean up government's mess

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A generous helping of Domino's pizza washed down with a couple glasses of Country Time lemonade won't do wonders for your waistline, but it's an excellent diet for promoting liberty and tweaking busybody bureaucrats. 

Country Time, a popular brand of powdered lemonade mix manufactured by Kraft Foods, is stepping in to pay fines levied against children who sell the sweetened beverage, and Domino's is paving potholes in 20 U.S. cities, quite literally filling the gaps left by local governments. 

Every spring and summer, police, zoning officials and health inspectors with nothing better to do manage to shut down a few lemonade stands and scare the dickens out of entrepreneurial-minded children. While it happens across the country, it's still rare enough to make the news - the latest egregious example of government overreach occurred late last month in Denver, Colorado.

Jennifer Knowles' three sons, ages 6,4 and 2, were selling lemonade in a park to raise money for charity, according to media reports. Police showed up to chase the mom and kids off because city rules require a temporary food vendor permit.

In other much-publicized cases, kids and young teenagers have been slapped with stiff fines for failing to procure business licenses or permits or for neglecting to schedule health inspections. That's where Country Time's Legal-Ade program comes in.

The brand launched a Twitter campaign, pledging to set aside up to $500,000 to cover the costs of kids' lemonade stand fines and pay for required permits. Country Time will pay up to $300 per child for young entrepreneurs 14 and under, even if they're selling a competitor's product or serving fresh-squeezed lemonade.

Sure, it's a publicity stunt that's generated more goodwill and glowing media coverage than the half-million-dollar Legal-Ade fund could buy in equivalent advertising, but Country Time has common sense on its side.

It ought to go without saying, but we'll say it anyway: Neighborhood lemonade stands should not be regulated like grown-up businesses. Even if they technically meet the definition of food and beverage vendors in some cities, officials would be wise to avoid picking such pointless and unpopular fights.

Cracking down on children engaged in a time-honored tradition constitutes an abuse of discretion, and the joyless functionaries who waste taxpayer resources to perform this petty tyranny should be drummed out of police, zoning and health departments. Their priorities are profoundly misplaced and they lack the good judgment required to responsibly exercise public authority. 

Thanks to Country Time's Legal-Ade program, kids will learn that sometimes you can fight city hall.

Domino's, meanwhile, says it will offer paving grants to 20 cities whose roads are pockmarked with potholes. It's a symbolic nod to carryout customers, and the public relations pitch is that smooth roads are essential to "getting the pizza home in perfect condition."

"We heard from consumers that pizzas sometimes get ruined, and it made us more vigilant to remove tension in the carryout experience," Domino's vice president of advertising Kate Trumbull told trade publication Franchise Times. 

Some grant recipients have agreed to allow contractors paid by Domino's to stencil the pizza chain's logo and marketing tagline into the asphalt.

The free service is a boon to cities and towns with rough roads, and many municipalities are gladly applying for the private grants. Domino's promotion does, however, underscore the failure of local, state and federal transportation agencies to maintain the roads our income, vehicle registration and gasoline taxes are ostensibly funding. 

Motorists are cheering the cheeky campaign, but to nervous public works directors, private industry accomplishing things government can't is downright subversive. Where the rubber meets the road, Domino's is coming through for citizens whose local officials have let them down. 

Country Time is sowing the seeds of economic liberty and spreading disdain for brainless bureaucracy. Domino's is sharing a message of self-reliance and reminding folks that free people can work together voluntarily to improve public spaces without anyone's taxes getting hiked.

Neither company will lay claim to a libertarian political philosophy or even a healthy distrust for big government, but the implication of these shrewd marketing moves is tough to deny. 

Lemonade and pizza are starting to taste a lot like freedom. We could all use a second serving. 

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