This year’s NECA National Legislative Conference brought more than 130 NECA contractors to Capitol Hill where they participated in more than 100 individual meetings with their congressional representatives. But, it’s OK if you want to think of it as submitting 100-plus bids—bids for sound policy.
Legislators are supposed to work for their constituents. Just as you wouldn’t send a construction crew to a new project without first having provided detailed specifications, we can’t expect good work from our members of Congress unless we make it clear to them where the problems are and what we need them to do to fix them.
Karen Prescott-Loeffler, assistant chapter manager and director of Government Relations and Economic Development at NECA’s San Diego Chapter, explained the importance of this kind of dialogue in a blog she wrote about her experience at last year’s conference: “There is no more powerful form of lobbying than a story told by the actual business owner speaking from experience and from the heart. As I listened to two... NECA contractors share their insights with their local congressman on what it is really like trying to navigate the day-to-day challenges of running a business in an unfriendly climate, I heard, ‘This is the first I’ve heard of this; how can I help?’ With that said, wheels were placed into motion ... .”
Participants in this year’s conference had a lot to discuss with their legislators, as well. In my April column, I pointed out why dramatic, permanent reform of multiemployer pension plans is NECA’s top priority for the 113th Congress and why it should concern all of us, regardless of NECA affiliation. Many of the Capitol Hill meetings focused on this. Comprehensive tax reform to create a sustainable and competitive business environment, establishing a sound energy policy, and calling for real investment in our nation’s infrastructure were also hot topics.
The average annual cost for NECA contractors to comply with yearly changes to the tax code is upward of $55,000—money that could be better spent growing our businesses. That’s why NECA is urging Congress to stop tinkering around the edges of the existing tax code and instead pass comprehensive reform that includes significant changes to both the individual and corporate tax and ensures tax rates are at consistently low levels (maximum: 25 percent). We also need full repeal of the alternative minimum tax and the estate tax. We need legislation to modernize depreciation schedules and preserve key deductions.
In addition, NECA urges Congress to continue to create tax incentives that encourage investment in energy-efficient technologies and to ensure that federal property reform includes energy-efficiency investments. NECA supports a responsible and comprehensive energy strategy that opens the door for all forms of energy and opportunities for electrical contractors.
At the conference and back home, NECA contractors are involved with numerous other issues that directly affect their bottom line. Among other things, NECA is asking Congress to prevent the misclassification of employees as independent contractors, enact tort reform to eliminate frivolous lawsuits, support realistic and achievable small business contracting goals, and support comprehensive immigration reform.
Since the latter is a blazing hot topic right now, I want to mention that the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act (S 744) may address many of the key elements needed. The act includes provisions for a new employment verification system, a mechanism for the undocumented workers to earn legal status, and reforms to guest worker programs. However, along with other construction organizations, NECA believes that the market should determine the number of guest visas issued, especially as the construction industry is rebuilding from record unemployment and the decline in work caused by the recession. NECA will continue to review the many details of this complex (844 pages!) legislation carefully and work with Congress to secure a workable reform plan.
Visit www.necanet.org/advocacy to learn more about NECA’s involvement in government affairs and our legislative efforts. It’s a highly effective program. It functions so well because NECA works at it every day and because it includes a strong, continuous grassroots effort that touches the legislators in their home districts as well as on Capitol Hill. NECA chapters build relationships with their national representatives and with their state legislators. Our politically astute members ensure the lawmakers know where electrical contractors stand on the issues and what the legislators must do to maintain the support of their constituents in the electrical contracting industry.
What it all comes down to: Being active in Washington, D.C., (and in all 50 states) enables NECA to speak with a big, influential voice wherever and whenever we speak.