If you turn on almost any news program, talk radio show, or cable news network between now and Nov. 6, you’re bound to hear many opinions and predictions about who will occupy the White House for the next four years. It’s an important and interesting topic, to be sure, but smart electrical contractors know that who occupies Congress and the state legislatures and what they do (or don’t do) can make a more immediate impact on our businesses and day-to-day lives.
NECA doesn’t get involved in presidential politics, but at all levels of our organization, we sure are active in legislative affairs.
As I write this column, NECA is getting ready for the biggest annual event on our association’s government affairs calendar. The 2012 NECALegislative Conference will bring dozens of member-contractors to Washington, D.C., May 8–11 to convey the concerns of thousands of their counterparts to our nation’s lawmakers. Conference participants know that, though any one of them can make a critical difference, unified action increases the odds of success.
This program provides attendees with educational updates on important federal legislative and regulatory issues and presentations from leading lawmakers and other Washington insiders. Then, the attendees visit congressional offices to educate our elected officials.
NECA’s Legislative Conference is about policy, not partisanship. Among NECA’s legislative priorities are policies aimed at job creation. When it comes to job creation in the electrical contracting industry, we conference participants will urge Congress to extend and expand federal tax incentives to lead building owners to invest in improving energy efficiency.
Conferees also will press for both pension and estate tax relief. Regarding the latter, note that, without congressional action, the federal estate tax rate will shoot back up to its pre-2001 level of 55 percent, which could easily consume family-owned firms. NECA supports legislation that would permanently extend current law, i.e., a 35 percent estate tax rate and a $5 million exemption per spouse.
Other big priorities for NECA that will arise at the conference include government procurement reform and closing a loophole that allows employers to misclassify employees as independent contractors. Conferees also will use the occasion to speak out against changing immigration laws in any way that could hold contractors liable for the hiring practices of subcontractors.
Of course, no one thinks our legislative goals will all be accomplished through a single conference, and no one looks at the conference as the be-all and end-all in the ongoing quest for good government and equitable laws promoting a healthful business climate. It took nearly seven years of nonstop advocacy by NECA members and our legislative affairs team to end the threat of 3 percent withholding leveled against government contractors. NECA works just as hard, everyday, to promote your interests with respect to current issues. Washington lobbying is a full-time job at NECA.
However, a strong, continuous grassroots effort that touches the legislators in their home districts and on Capitol Hill also is important. 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. Being active in Washington, D.C., and in all 50 states, enables NECA to speak with a big, influential voice.
Another important part of NECA’s government affairs effort is promoting the election of legislators who are supportive of our concerns. Since its founding in 1978, NECA’s Electrical Construction Political Action Committee has helped elect scores of industry-friendly members of Congress. ECPAC is the largest specialty contractor political action committee in existence, and the candidates know that. NECA takes pride in our ability to work with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, and we demonstrate this through ECPAC as well as through our grassroots advocacy efforts.
I encourage all electrical contractors to keep up with legislative issues relevant to our industry—whether those issues are national, regional or local—and to reach out to lawmakers. Let them know what you need and what you want them to do. Hold them accountable.
Furthermore, I encourage you to take up this task and pursue it diligently, as if your livelihood depends on it. Because, when you consider the importance of the legislation and regulations that govern your work, it really does.