America's independent auto repairers represent the best of U.S. small business and deserve protection from predatory big business and ``ignorant, arrogant'' government regulators, according to high-level government speakers at the recent Automotive Service Association national convention.
``We're all fellow soldiers in a battle against an onerous regulatory and tax load that hits small business the hardest,'' said Thomas Sullivan, deputy counsel at the Small Business Administration, during the ASA meeting held in Arlington.
Mr. Sullivan, who served as counsel to the National Federation of Independent Business before his federal appointment by President George W. Bush, heads the Office of Advocacy within the SBA. Simply put, he said, ``we fight for lower taxes, less regulation and better access to health care for small business.''
The Office of Advocacy studies and documents small business achievements and concerns. ``Policy wonks don't know that small businesses are job creators and innovators,'' Mr. Sullivan said. ``They don't know that unless you tell them, and sometimes they don't believe you unless you prove it.... We provide information on taxes and show how much quicker the economy would turn around if they leveled the playing field for small business.''
It is the law of the land, Mr. Sullivan noted, that regulatory agencies must consider the effect of pending regulations on small business before they issue them. This, however, is a law many agencies would rather ignore.
``We will not let the federal government break the law,'' he said. ``The federal government expects you to obey the law, so why shouldn't the federal government itself obey it?''
Small business makes up half of the gross domestic product of the U.S., said Rep. Nydia Velasquez, D-N.Y., ranking Democrat on the House Small Business Committee. Yet small businesses feel the pinch more than anyone else of the lack of skilled workers in the marketplace.
``Twenty percent of Americans can't read or do math at the fifth-grade level,'' Rep. Velasquez said. ``Young people can't read a manual or do financial transactions. When our students come up short, you have to take up the slack.''
Rep. Velasquez is a key supporter of a bill that is a major priority for the ASA. This is the Skilled Workforce Enhancement Act (SWEA), which offers business owners with fewer than 250 employees a $15,000 tax credit for training apprentices in highly skilled trades.
SWEA lost momentum in Congress after Sept. 11, and ASA representatives don't expect it to move this year. Rep. Velasquez, however, said she hopes to attach it to an omnibus labor bill. ``I want you to work with me to make the federal worker training system small business-friendly,'' she said.
Rep. Donald Manzullo, R-Ill., chairman of the House Small Business Committee, is an old friend of the ASA; his uncle, Russ Verona, is a past chairman of the association.
In his speech, Rep. Manzullo complained of the ways the federal government discriminates against small business owners. ``Even the Department of Education discriminates against small business people,'' he said. ``If you have a business other than a farm, your accounts discriminate against your kids getting a student loan.''
The very morning Rep. Manzullo spoke, the Washington Post ran an article about how Thomas Scully, the head of Medicare programs within the Department of Health and Human Services, had ignored a subpoena to appear before the House Small Business Committee. He had said it was inappropriate for him to testify on the same panel as lobbyists.
Still angry over the incident. Rep. Manzullo said the ``lobbyists'' to whom Mr. Scully referred included distinguished physicians and scientists as well as legitimate small-business owners. ``The people of the U.S. are not going to be hijacked by regulators who think they're better than the people they serve,'' he said. ``It isn't a matter of respect for the chairman of the committee, but respect for the system itself.''