Tire dealers and retreaders traditionally have been leery of big government. Whenever Uncle Sam promises to do something for them, he too often ends up doing something to them. Considering the pending legislative agenda for 1994, it is little wonder that the industry is even more apprehensive than usual. The list of issues to be considered this year contains more than its share of potentially expensive, burdensome pitfalls for small business.
Universal health care, particularly the bill proposed by the Clinton administration, is the issue that strikes the loudest chord of fear. Nobody, of course, opposes helping the nearly 40 million Americans without health insurance. And for some larger dealerships, which pay as much as 12 percent of their payrolls for employee health insurance premiums, the Clinton proposal's cap of 7.9 percent is actually a savings.
But for the owner of a small, six-employee dealership who has always found all health insurance priced out of reach, the Clinton bill's requirement that all employers provide such insurance is more of a threat than anything else.
``Our members with the smallest profits, if they are not now providing insurance, will find it very difficult to do it just because the government says so,'' said Philip P. Friedlander Jr., executive vice president of the National Tire Dealers & Retreaders Association.
Other health care bills have less sweeping employer requirements. Even so, many dealers view the issue as just one more burden of mandated benefits. Roy E. Littlefield III, government relations director of the American Retreaders' Association, said health care is on a continuum for small business with mandated family leave, retroactive increases in corporate taxes and a proposed hike in the minimum wage.
``Small business just can't handle this,'' he said. ``Because of this, we're not going to see any growth in the small-business sector.''
Mandated benefits aren't the only problem the industry faces in 1994. Earlier this month, President Clinton endorsed a bill to reform the operations of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. This endorsement, hailed by labor unions, means for tire dealers a further probability of stiff fines for trivial, even inadvertent, OSHA violations.
Tire dealers and retreaders do hope for a rewrite of Superfund, if such a rewrite will prevent their being named as third-party defendants in lawsuits for the cleanup of hazardous waste sites. However, some observers think Congress is more likely to advance a recycling bill that will contain a scrap tire section retreaders dislike because it makes no explicit provisions for saving retreadable casings.
President Clinton entered the White House with a promise that he would help the nation's small businesses. Some of the administration's initiatives-particularly those involving credit availability-have done just that.
But regarding health care and other major actions, dealers and other owners of small businesses simply see another misfiring of Uncle Sam's blunderbuss. It is up to the White House to hear their concerns and persuade them otherwise.
Mr. Moore is TIRE BUSINESS' Washington correspondent.