WASHINGTON-The National Federation of Independent Business has two words for whomever is elected president in 1996: ``Tax reform.'' For The National Association of Manufacturers, its chief advice to the federal government also can be summed up in two words: ``Promote growth.''
In separate press conferences Sept. 27, the NFIB and NAM-both of which have significant membership in the tire and rubber industries-set forth their political goals and agendas for the coming year.
The NFIB has drawn up a small-business agenda for all presidential candidates.
Among the federation's recommendations-covering both legislative and executive actions-are reduced regulations, product liability reform, small-business exemptions from Superfund litigation, a 100-percent health insurance deduction for the self-employed, a balanced-budget amendment and cuts in federal agencies.
But tax reform-meaning both lower taxes and simpler tax rules-is the most crucial item on the list, according to NFIB President Jack Faris.
``We must have tax reform-and we must not just talk about it, but do something about it,'' Mr. Faris said. ``Our businesses need it more than anyone else in the country.''
Many small-business owners are so frightened of the Internal Revenue Service, according to Mr. Faris, that they will each pay thousands of dollars in taxes that they don't even owe.
``Small business doesn't mind having to pay its fair share of taxes,'' he said. ``Our complaint is that the system is not simple, and it's not fair.''
In particular, the NFIB wants the repeal of estate taxes. ``Inheritance taxes were passed to ensure that the very wealthy didn't es-cape paying their share,'' Mr. Faris said. ``But it's not the Rockefellers who pay estate taxes-they've found all sorts of loopholes. It's the family farmer, rancher or businessman whose family has to liquidate the property to pay the taxes. It is absolutely idiotic.''
Although the NFIB wants tax reform, it completely opposes any plans for a value-added tax. ``It is a very hidden tax we find detestable,'' Mr. Faris said. ``The VAT is a job killer; because of it, Europe has not added one new job in 19 years.''
The federation has scheduled a political conference in Washington Oct. 22-24 for about 300 of the leading small-business people in the U.S., according to Mr. Faris. All of the current presidential candidates, including President Clinton, have been invited to speak, and most have confirmed they will attend.
The NFIB neither endorses presidential candidates nor supports any political party, Mr. Faris said, but gives its members the tools they need to support the candidates they favor individually. It also encourages small-business owners to run for public office, and hundreds have won seats in both the U.S. Congress and state legislatures.
``When small-business people go to ballot boxes, it's no difference to us whether the candidate is D (Democrat) or R (Republican), since both parties should be committed to small business,'' Mr. Faris said.
``If our own members run for office, we never ask where they stand on issues. If they run a business and sign the paychecks, we're very pleased to see them run.''
According to newly elected NAM Chairman Dana Mead, chairman and CEO of Tenneco Inc., there is no reason why the U.S., with the strongest economy and best productivity in the world, shouldn't have annual economic growth of 3 to 3.5 percent.
``Before the early 1970s, when the first oil shortage began, we had average growth of 3.7 percent annually,'' Mr. Mead said. ``For the last several years, however, it's averaged only 2 to 2.5 percent.
``It is ironic that the world's strongest economy should be stuck with rates of growth well under both our historical average and those of our international competitors,'' he added.
The consequences of such low growth include sluggish job creation and wage growth, a skyrocketing national debt, rising taxes and growing market uncertainty, he said.
Mr. Mead said promoting economic growth will be the NAM's first priority in 1996. Increasing the annual growth rate by 1 percent annually, he said, would be enough to balance the U.S. budget by 2002 and eliminate the current interest on the national debt by 2010.
For years, the Federal Reserve has based its monetary policies on the belief that growth above 2.5 percent would be inflationary. This may have been true once, but no longer, according to Mr. Mead.
``Technological advances and other dynamic improvements in the manufacturing sector have not only increased productivity, but also raised the economy's potential for non-inflationary growth,'' he said, quoting from the resolution on economic growth the NAM has adopted.
Besides following freer monetary policies, the government should get serious about reforming itself, according to Mr. Mead.
``As a businessman, if I want a business to really change its operations, I do two things: I strengthen their goals beyond all reason, and I cut the budget,'' he said. ``In other words, I want them to stop doing things a customer won't pay for. If they're smart and well-managed, they cut away those things that don't add value. This is something that can be done in government.''