WASHINGTON—Late in September, an official of the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) told a House subcommittee that federal agencies had issued 2,878 new regulations so far in 2013.
The only possible reply from tire dealers, independent repair shops and other small businesses could be, “So what else is new?”
A plethora of bills, standards and proposals—on both the federal and state levels—greeted the tire retailing industry in 2013. And like in most years, the industry staunchly supported some of these measures and vehemently opposed others.
But when the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) estimated in 2010 that small businesses pay an average of $10,585 a year to comply with federal regulations, it could not have been much of a surprise to any small business owner.
For tire dealers and manufacturers, the real government news in 2013 might have been what didn't happen: final language from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) on the tire labeling and consumer information requirements for the fuel-efficiency tire-labeling standard issued in March 2010.
Chris Lieu, NHTSA director of government affairs, policy and strategic planning, told the Tire Industry Association (TIA) in July that the consumer information requirements would come out in two phases.
The first phase would address tire maintenance and update existing tire information on NHTSA's consumer website, SafeCar.gov, Mr. Lieu said.
The second phase would concentrate on educating consumers about the new tire fuel-efficiency regulations, he said. However, he gave no timetable for the issuance of these phases.
NHTSA Administrator David Strickland—who announced in early December he is leaving the agency after being the nation's top auto safety regulator since early 2010—said in an August speech that it would be a while before the final labeling format appeared.
“We are fixated on getting the standards work done, and the people who work on the label are also the people who work on the standard,” Mr. Strickland said.
In contrast, the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was rampantly in evidence, for the industry and for nearly everyone in the U.S.
The ACA came under fire in October when the government's ACA website, HealthCare.gov, came online. Slow response times, repeated computer errors and frequent system outages fed public dissatisfaction with the law, as did widespread cancellation of existing policies that President Barack Obama originally had assured the nation would still be available under the ACA.
Obama administration officials said they had largely fixed the website by Dec. 1, but skeptics such as the NFIB continued to call for the law's repeal. And over the course of the year, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted numerous times to repeal/defund the healthcare law.
An NFIB study issued Nov. 1 said health insurance costs continued to rise for small business owners under the ACA, despite the Obama administration's assurances to the contrary.
2013 saw the introduction in Congress of several bills designed to ease tax burdens for small business and promote U.S. trade.
Twenty-two Democratic senators introduced a package of bills Oct. 29 under an initiative they called “Manufacturing Jobs for America.”
The measures in the legislative package included:
- The Bring Home Jobs Act, which would end the tax loophole for corporations that move jobs overseas and cut taxes for businesses that move jobs into the U.S. from other countries;
- The New Skills for New Jobs Act, to expand collaborative job training programs between community colleges and local businesses;
- The Make It In America tax credit, to give businesses a tax break of up to 30 percent for producing clean energy technologies in the U.S.;
- A bill to raise to $200,000 the limit on expensing depreciable business assets; and
- A bill allowing credits against income tax for investing in small businesses.
In June, organizations such as TIA, the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association (AAIA) and the Service Station Dealers of America and Allied Trades expressed their support bill introduced by Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., to repeal the estate tax permanently.
Called the “death tax” by its detractors, the estate tax was reduced gradually until it was repealed in 2010, but it came back under its former rates in 2011. Because of the estate tax, more than 70 percent of family businesses do not survive into the second generation, Sen. Thune claimed, and 90 percent don't survive into the third generation.
TIA also joined a coalition supporting the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2013, which would modernize the operations of both U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
However, TIA came out in opposition to H.R. 3636, a bill that would raise the federal fuel tax 15 cents a gallon to provide funding for the U.S. transportation system.
Such an increase would be inadequate to address the Highway Trust Fund's financial shortfall, and also probably would be diverted away from highway projects, TIA said. By taking this stand, the Bowie, Md.-based trade group went against the American Trucking Associations, AAA Inc., the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other organizations that supported the bill.
In May, the U.S. Senate passed S.743, the Marketplace Fairness Act, by a 69-27 vote. The legislation would require online retailers to collect sales taxes for the states to where they ship goods. The House of Representatives, however, has not yet acted on the bill.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) made two decisions late in 2013 that pleased the automotive aftermarket.
First, the EPA issued an amendment under the Significant New Use Rule of the Toxic Substances Control Act, eliminating the requirement to notify the agency at least 90 days in advance before manufacturing or processing the refrigerant HFO-1234yf for consumers to recharge their own auto air conditioning units.
This has the effect of allowing consumers unrestricted access to HFO-1234yf, a move the AAIA praised. The association, along with the Automotive Refrigeration Products Institute, has sued the EPA to allow unrestricted consumer access to the refrigerant.
Also, according to the Specialty Market Equipment Association (SEMA), the EPA said it would lower the targeted amount of ethanol to blend in gasoline. SEMA has long fought ethanol in gasoline, saying it degrades and damages engines and engine parts.
State legislation and regulation had a high profile in 2013. Probably the biggest triumph for the auto aftermarket was the Massachusetts legislature's passage of a reconciliation bill combining the differing versions of the Motor Vehicle Owners' Right to Repair Act passed in 2012 by the legislature and Massachusetts voters.
The Right to Repair Act requires auto makers to provide in an economical, easily accessible manner the same repair and diagnostic information they give their franchised dealers. In a surprise move, the legislature voted to have heavy-duty vehicles covered under the law.
However, the aftermarket opposed a Massachusetts bill that would establish a pilot program with 1,000 volunteer drivers to establish the feasibility of a per-miles-traveled tax on vehicles in the state. The bill, SEMA said, would penalize efforts to create a more fuel-efficient vehicle fleet.
Maryland, Texas and Florida all considered bills directly related to tires. In Maryland, TIA and the Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA) successfully fought a bill that would have required the state's tire merchants to give consumers a printed statement on the dangers of tire aging whenever they sold a tire that was used, recycled, retreaded, or more than three years past its manufacture date.
The RMA, meanwhile, made substantial headway in Texas and Florida with its model bill setting up strict guidelines for the sale and handling of used tires.
The Texas Senate approved SB 459, which would have forbade the sale of visibly damaged, bald or improperly repaired used tires.
It also would have required used tire haulers to register with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. An identical bill failed to pass the Texas House, however.
The Florida legislature considered a similar bill that was attached to an omnibus transportation funding package. However, the legislature adjourned without voting on the transportation legislation.
California passed a bill authorizing $10 million annually from the state's scrap tire management fund for rubberized asphalt concrete projects.
Texas approved legislation giving independent repair shops equal treatment under the state's franchise tax laws with new and used car dealers, tire dealers and auto parts stores.
The Automotive Service Association urged its Ohio members to support a bill in the Ohio Senate to establish a shop registration program for independent auto mechanical repair garages. The program would be identical to the existing registration program for Ohio collision shops.
To reach this reporter: [email protected]; 202-662-7211.