WASHINGTON-Tax breaks, regulatory reform, Superfund reform, product liability reform and a 100-percent health insurance deduction for the self-employed were among the 60 recommendations made by the more than 2,000 delegates to the White House Conference on Small Business, held in Washington June 12-15. These recommendations for federal government action-designed to help U.S. small businesses remain competitive and prosper in coming years-were buttressed by promises from the heads of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to make their agencies more collaborative with small business and less punitive.
Most representatives of small business were pleased with the recommendations. But tire dealers and retreaders, at least, will believe them when they see them enacted, according to Roy E. Littlefield III, government relations director of the American Retreaders Association.
There have been two previous White House small business conferences, in 1980 and 1986, Mr. Littlefield noted. ``We've gone to those conferences and approved the resolutions,'' he said. ``Yet so many of our people are making less money this year than they did last year, and less money last year than they did the year before.
``If some of those recommendations actually become law, then the conference will have helped us,'' Mr. Littlefield added. ``If the White House really wanted to help us, it would repeal retroactive liability for Superfund. There are many people in Congress who want to do that, but no one in the Clinton administration so far has suggested it.''
As an example of the damage retroactive liability has caused retreaders, Mr. Littlefield cited a Pennsylvania tire dealer and retreader who was told by an EPA inspector that his shop had caused the land around it to be contaminated. After two years and $160,000-an expenditure that depleted his retirement fund-the retreader was told someone else had caused the contamination.
``The guy was virtually in tears when he spoke to me,'' he said. ``He's entitled to his money back from the actual polluter, but so far the EPA hasn't located him.''
Superfund reform was No. 5 among the top 10 recommendations made in an open vote by the conference delegates. The top recommendation was for the federal government to clarify the definition of an independent contractor.
The other top recommendations, in order, were to reinstate the 100-percent deduction for business meals; strengthen the Regulatory Flexibility Act; repeal estate taxes; allow the 100-percent health insurance deduction; simplify pension rules; enact intellectual property rights; enact regulatory reform; and reform product liability and civil justice laws.
Other policy changes endorsed by the delegates were reductions in capital gains taxes; enactment of a flat income tax; closing the Small Business Investment Company to establish a government-sponsored but privately managed corporation; and the creation of government programs to help small businesses enter the international export trade.
On June 14, EPA Administrator Carol M. Browner announced to attendees a new ``Common Sense Compliance Policy'' designed to help companies with 100 or fewer employees achieve compliance with agency regulations without facing draconian penalties.
Under the policy, the EPA will eliminate or reduce civil penalties for harmless non-compliance with agency rules, if the company in question made a good-faith effort to comply and wasn't cited for non-compliance of the same rule in the past five years.
Also on June 14, OSHA Administrator Joseph A. Dear spoke of the Clinton administration's plans to ``reinvent'' OSHA, including a more cooperative agency-business compliance program and elimination of as much as one-third of all current OSHA regulations.
Government speakers faced pointed, even combative questioning from delegates skeptical of federal plans to help small business.
Typical of small-business reaction was that of S. Jackson Faris, president of the National Federation of Independent Business, who said small business must now make sure Congress and the administration implement the conference's recommendations.
Members of the American Franchisee Association (AFA) were pleased they were able to get several franchisee rights issues on the final list of recommendations, including removal of legal barriers to mediating, arbitrating or litigating in their own states.
Some 137 franchisees-including representatives of such auto service companies as Meineke Discount Muffler Shops Inc., Midas Muffler and Batteries Plus-were represented at the conference. They lobbied extensively on behalf of H.R. 1717, a bill designed to remove all barriers from franchisees exercising basic legal rights.