With the presidential election just around the corner, it's an appropriate time to take a non-partisan look at the candidates and see how they stand on issues that affect tire dealers.
This way when you enter the polls on Nov. 2, you'll have enough information to make an intelligent decision and punch, mark or flag the right hole on your voting card. (For another review of the presidential candidates, see the Oct. 11 issue of Tire Business.)
To start, you have to ask yourself: ``Just how well do I know these guys, George W. Bush and John F. Kerry?''
Mr. Bush was born in New Haven, Conn., in 1946 and grew up in Midland, Texas, and Houston. He graduated with a bachelor's from Yale in 1968 and an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School in 1975. He served in the Texas Air National Guard as a pilot from 1968-1973.
He founded and headed Bush Exploration Oil & Gas Co. from 1975-1986 in Midland and was a managing general partner for the Texas Rangers professional baseball team from 1989-1994. Elected governor of Texas in 1994 with 53.5 percent of the vote, he became the first governor in that state's history to be elected to consecutive four-year terms in 1998 with 68.6 percent of the vote.
Mr. Bush was elected president of the U.S. in 2000. He is the grandson of the late U.S. Senator Prescott Bush, R-Conn., the son of former President George H.W. Bush, and the brother of Florida's Republican Gov. Jeb Bush. He is married to Laura Welch Bush, a former teacher and librarian, has twin daughters and is a Methodist.
John F. Kerry was born in Denver in 1943 and grew up in Massachusetts. He earned a bachelor's from Yale University in 1966 and a juris doctorate law degree from Boston College in 1976. He served in the U.S. Navy from 1966-1969 and saw duty in Vietnam as a Swift Boat officer. He received a Silver Star, Bronze Star with Combat V and three awards of the Purple Heart for his service in combat.
Mr. Kerry worked as an assistant district attorney from 1977-1982, and then served as Massachusetts lieutenant governor from 1982-1985. In 1985 he was elected a U.S. senator representing that state and has served four terms.
He divorced his first wife, Julia Thorne, in 1988 and in 1995 married his second wife, Teresa Heinz, the widow of Republican Sen. John Heinz of Pennsylvania. Ms. Heinz inherited her husband's ketchup business fortune of more than $600 million. Mr. Kerry has two children and three stepchildren and is a Catholic.
So now that you know the personal details, where do these guys stand on the issues that matter to you? Well, let's see.
Most tire dealers qualify as small business owners, so how the candidates address small business issues may be vital to your livelihood. Mr. Bush would end government subsidies for the primary business loan program of the Small Business Administration (SBA). He wants tax cuts to be made permanent so business owners can finance more of their own growth.
Mr. Kerry, on the other hand, would increase funding for SBA loans and expand government-supported venture capital programs for small businesses. Would either of these approaches affect you?
Most small businesses use their own money or credit cards to finance growth or turn to conventional lenders. Mr. Bush contends that tax cuts enable them to keep more money in their businesses, and most small businesses that want loans can get them without the SBA's help. However, small business owners are worried about higher interest rates. If the government continues to gush red ink, it will have to borrow so much money that small businesses could get crowded out of the market. While each candidate vows to cut the deficit, each also promises new spending programs.
Both are known as ``big spenders.''
Right now health insurance is the most important issue facing both large and small businesses.
Over the last several years the cost of health insurance has skyrocketed, making it unaffordable for a growing number of small businesses, and double-digit increases are a certainty next year as well. Mr. Bush claims he would make health care more affordable by allowing small businesses to pool their resources and buy coverage from national trade associations (such as the Tire Industry Association). To do this, so-called association health plans (AHPs) would be exempt from state coverage mandates.
Mr. Bush also would expand health savings accounts (HSAs), which are tax-free accounts that pay for medical expenses for anyone with high deductible health insurance. Employers can contribute to these accounts, too, and many businesses already have incorporated HSAs into their health plans. HSAs help businesses save money on insurance and encourage people to make better decisions because they get to keep any money they don't spend.
In addition, Mr. Bush proposes giving small business owners a tax credit for contributions to their employees' HSAs. The government would contribute $300 to the HSAs of low-income Americans and give them a $700 income tax credit.
Mr. Kerry's plan is more extensive and expensive. He plans to pay for it primarily by rolling back Mr. Bush's income tax cut for individuals who earn more than $200,000. Under Mr. Kerry's plan, small businesses would be eligible to buy health insurance from the same plan that covers members of Congress. Small businesses also could take a 50-percent tax credit for the cost of health insurance they provide to low- and moderate-income workers.
His plan also requires the federal government to pick up 75 percent of the bill when a worker's health expenses exceed $50,000 a year. Mr. Kerry says this catastrophic coverage would cut health premiums by up to $1,000 a year for a family.
Many tire dealers' retirement plans consist of selling their business. But that doesn't mean that Social Security isn't an important issue to you. Most small firms including tire dealers can't afford to offer pensions or 401(k) plans, so many of their employees depend on Social Security for retirement income.
Social Security's actuaries say the program will start paying out more than it is taking in by 2018 and could run out of money by 2042. Without action to address Social Security's looming financial crisis, benefits eventually will have to be cut or payroll taxes increased.
Mr. Bush favors allowing workers to invest some of their Social Security contributions in private investment accounts. Supporters say this would give workers a chance to earn a better return on their money and strengthen Social Security by pre-funding some benefits rather than leaving it as a system in which current workers pay the benefits of current retirees.
Critics, however, claim the plan will leave an unfunded hole because today's wage earners pay into the system to fund the benefits of Social Security recipients.
Mr. Kerry is against privatization of Social Security and has vowed to never cut benefits or extend the retirement age. He contends Social Security is ``safe and sound well into the next two decades or more'' and requires only minor changes.
The big difference between the two about taxes? Mr. Kerry wants to raise your taxes if you make more than $200,000 a year. He would roll back Mr. Bush's tax cut for the wealthiest Americans to help finance his health care plan and also would increase capital gains and dividend taxes for high-income Americans. But Mr. Kerry would give tax credits to small businesses that add new jobs, purchase energy-efficient equipment or offer their employees health insurance.
Mr. Bush wants to make the tax cuts passed by Congress in 2001 and 2003 permanent. He believes they're responsible for the recent improvement in the economy and contends that consumers, businesses and investors will boost growth even more if they know these cuts will stay.
Are you concerned about the estate tax-called the ``death tax''?
Under the current law, the estate tax is progressively phased out by 2010 but returns in full force in 2011. Despite the president's support, opponents of the estate tax have not been able to persuade the Senate to make its repeal permanent.
Mr. Kerry favors a compromise of raising the estate tax exemption to $4 million for a family and $10 million for a family-owned business or farm. He believes this would relieve most small businesses from worrying about the estate tax while letting the government collect revenue from the nation's wealthiest families.
However, many people believe that Mr. Kerry's proposed family-owned business exemption includes so many restrictions that few small businesses would qualify for it. Permanent repeal of the estate tax is a dead issue if Mr. Kerry is elected.
U.S. oil dependence
If you're concerned about fuel prices-and who isn't- especially if you have commercial trucking accounts, then you should be aware of what the candidates' positions are on reducing U.S. oil dependence.
Both men favor increasing domestic production of oil and gas. Mr. Bush would open more public lands to production, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), the Rocky Mountain region, offshore continental shelf areas and the deep water of the Gulf of Mexico. Mr. Kerry would not open oil fields in environmentally sensitive areas such as ANWR.
Both candidates support research and development and subsidies for alternative fuels such as ethanol and support tax credits for the purchase of hybrid and alternative fuel vehicles. Mr. Bush opposes increasing corporate average fuel efficiency (CAFE) standards while Mr. Kerry supports increasing CAFE for cars and light trucks. Both candidates are opposed to increasing fuel taxes.
Facing the issues
For Mr. Bush to beat Mr. Kerry, he'll need to give the public confidence in our ongoing operations in Iraq and in his ability to continue reviving our economy here at home.
For Mr. Kerry to beat Mr. Bush, any downturn in economic factors-jobs, gas prices, the stock market-would work in his favor as would heightened worries about Iraq and international security.
So, who's going to win the election? Easy: The guy who wins the most electoral votes.
Therefore, you folks in Florida-make sure you properly punch your ballots and watch out for those darn dangling chads. Or you'll really be the brunt of some awful jokes for another four years!
But no matter whom you support, get out there and do your civic duty.