Nearly 90 American Rental Association (ARA) members from 36 states traveled to Washington, D.C., to personally meet with their U.S. representatives and senators by participating in ARA’s National Legislative Caucus. The annual caucus program this year focused on the key industry issues of multiyear funding for transportation and infrastructure, and repeal of the Health Insurance Tax (HIT) within current health care legislation. ARA’s Government Affairs Committee and ARAPAC Council were integral in the planning and program of the caucus.
Following briefing sessions during which speakers further explained the focus of these key issues, participants left for Capitol Hill in a consolidated effort to build relationships with legislators and make known the concerns of the equipment rental industry through facts, figures and personal stories.
“The ARA Legislative Caucus is the practice of democracy at its very best. The action of members speaking directly to elected representatives about their key industry issues is invaluable in representing the face and voice of the industry,” said Christine Wehrman, ARA’s executive vice president and CEO.
conversations make the difference for the industry being represented and remembered at the time of critical decisions in Washington, D.C. I can’t stress enough the importance of members being involved in the political process locally and at the federal level to stay aware of issues and to engage in this important dialogue,” she said.
Opening sessions were designed to help prepare attendees for their time spent on Capitol Hill. Rep. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.), special guest at the Tuesday opening session, talked about the individual ability to change the climate in Washington, D.C., and the importance of working together at the community level. “Washington isn’t run like your small businesses are run. That’s why we have to change Washington,” he said. “You are leaders in your community; give your love and your leadership. Most of all, give your time.”
On Wednesday morning, Rep. Chip Cravaack (R-Minn.) opened the morning session with his perspective as a first-term member of the U.S. House of Representatives, focusing on his service on the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee. He encouraged attendees to engage with their elected officials in Washington, D.C., and in their states, and to become active in the political process. Rep. Cravaack was introduced by caucus delegate Jerry Kortesmaki of London Road Rentals in Duluth, Minn. Kortesmaki was one of Rep. Cravaack’s main supporters in the 2010 election in which he defeated former Rep. Jim Oberstar, who had held the seat for more than 30 years.
Following Rep. Cravaack, participants heard from Brian Deery, senior director of Highway and Transportation-Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), regarding the transportation and infrastructure legislation and the importance of ARA members’ work to address the issue.
“We think a national transportation system is important,” he said. “Don’t let the program shut down. We need to get something done. When you go to the Hill, your message is, ‘Get a bill done,’” he said. He expressed support of at least a 60- or 90-day extension as an interim measure, which was subsequently passed by the Senate. Caucus attendees also were encouraged to stress funding of a longer term, multiyear bill.
Amanda Austin, director of federal public policy for the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), addressed the HIT issue. “Health insurance has been the No. 1 concern for our members for two decades,” she said. “This tax on the insurance companies will be directly passed on to your small business and increase your costs.” HIT is a tax that will be levied on every fully insured health insurance product beginning in 2014.
Once the morning session adjourned, ARA members went straight to Capitol Hill for their appointments, numbering in the hundreds, with senators and representatives, while still making and receiving phone calls to confirm appointments. Many attendees were able to have visits with their senators and representatives in person. However, due to the amount of legislative activity during caucus, there also were several meetings arranged with staff members while legislators were voting and other meetings with representatives occurred while walking to a meeting or standing in the hall outside a committee room.
In their meetings, participants discussed the issues ARA supports from their personal business level. ARA members were animated and energized following their meetings, confident that they were heard and empowered to affect change. Many felt that personal stories helped make their point.
“We’ve had some really good meetings,” said Mike Flesher, ARA president and owner of Taylor Rental Center in Vestal, N.Y. “I’ve heard so many great stories about the interactions and our congressmen were very receptive to our messages. It’s been a great few days here in D.C.”
Ray Imbro, Party Time Rental & Events in Little Rock, Ark., also was pleased with his state’s experience on the Hill. “I’m excited about the people who represent our state,” he said. “I never realized how easy it was to set up meetings with our legislators and have candid one-on-one discussions that mattered.”
“We saw three of our representatives and staff members on all others from our state except for one,” said Beth Hoff Blackmer, Aspen Rent-All, Aspen, Colo. “Every one of the people we met with thanked us for coming and taking the time to meet with them. They were appreciative to hear from us. I have always believed that what we think won’t affect them, but after meeting with so many I do believe they listened and heard what we had to say.”
Participants’ enthusiasm carried over to the Wednesday evening’s ARA Political Action Committee (ARAPAC) reception, which raised a record $20,000. “ARAPAC works for the whole industry and accomplishes a great deal for ARA’s government affairs program. I’m deeply grateful to everyone who contributed,” said Buddy Stubbs, ARAPAC chairman and president of Busylad Rental in Tupelo, Miss.
Rep. Bobby Schilling (R-Ill.), who represents the district containing the ARA home office in Moline, Ill., was the speaker at the reception, where he highlighted the importance of what ARA does in Washington, D.C. “Small businesses know how to run America. Thank you for what you do. It’s important for you to come to Washington, D.C. It goes without saying that America needs the principles of small businesses. Separate wants from needs, prioritize needs and act,” he said.
Before Thursday morning appointments on the Hill, Alysia Ryan, ARA’s director of state government affairs, and John McClelland, ARA’s vice president for government affairs, spoke about the significance of state and local connections and the importance of taking the Capitol Hill experience home to continue making legislative progress for the equipment rental industry.
“Caucus is when ARA members take time away from their businesses to come to Washington, D.C., to represent the equipment rental industry. This year we had an exceptional group of ARA members from 36 states who took the time to deliver important messages on transportation spending and health care to their elected representatives. This is the essence of grassroots action and is one of the most effective ways to influence public policy. I appreciate the efforts of each of our caucus attendees and I am already looking forward to next year’s caucus,” McClelland said.
For first-time attendee Doug Jones, Pro Rentals and Sales in Idaho Falls, Idaho, the experience at caucus had a positive impact. “This re-energized me to get active in government affairs. I think we are making a difference,” he said.
The caucus ended with a closing luncheon, which featured Rep. Geoff Davis (R-Ky.) as the speaker. He told attendees that ARA’s voice in Washington, D.C. is being heard. “It is very critical to us here in Washington to get these pro-business reforms done,” he said.
Steve Anthony, president of American Event Rentals in Stockton, Calif., and chairman of the ARA Government Affairs Committee, sent participants home with high praise and an important challenge. “Volunteerism is the lifeblood of any organization and your efforts are indicative of superior volunteers. It’s a great organization we all belong to,” he said. “Let’s go back home and continue what we have started here in D.C.”
ARA issues and positions for 2012
The Government Affairs Committee of the American Rental Association (ARA) has identified the following specific legislative issues as the focus for advocacy in 2012.
- Transportation and Infrastructure: The United States has one of the world’s most efficient transportation systems, which provides for the movement of goods and services to market. However, that system is rapidly deteriorating. Already our economy loses billions of dollars every year on wasted fuel, time and accidents that are caused by poor road, highway and bridge conditions. A long-term investment in our transportation infrastructure will pay dividends for decades to come by speeding travel, putting people to work, building our economy and saving lives. The most immediate issue facing reauthorization of a multiyear surface transportation bill is funding. The United States has been under-investing in its infrastructure for several years. From 2002 to 2008, the economy grew at an average annual rate of 2.4 percent, while investment in infrastructure fell 1.6 percent per year. A multiyear reauthorization of funding for these programs would direct badly needed resources into rebuilding and upgrading aging infrastructure. It also would create the market certainty needed for state departments of transportation to plan and execute their infrastructure strategies and for companies to rehire laid-off workers, purchase and rent new equipment, while renewing the efficiency of our transportation infrastructure. With equipment rental industry revenues down 25 percent since 2008 and just beginning to recover, and construction sector unemployment stubbornly high at 17.1 percent, the multiyear reauthorization of highway and infrastructure programs would be welcome news to this hard-hit sector of the U.S. economy.
A fully funded highway bill will put people back to work in good paying jobs, including jobs in construction equipment rental businesses. It is estimated that 6.4 cents of every dollar invested in highways is used to buy, rent and service equipment. Each dollar spent on equipment also is estimated to generate $3.19 in economic impact as equipment companies and their employees buy goods and services.
On March 31, 2012, the latest temporary extension of the surface transportation program was set to expire. ARA members asked their representatives for a fully funded, multiyear reauthorization of the federal transportation and infrastructure programs. On March 30, Congress passed a nine-month extension of the existing program.
ARA continues to support swift passage of a fully funded, multiyear reauthorization of federal transportation and infrastructure programs.
- Health Insurance Tax (HIT): In coalition with the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), ARA members were asked to tell their members to vote against the HIT, which is a tax mandated by the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act (PPACA). The HIT would require health insurance companies to pay an annual fee, which would likely then be passed on to those purchasing health insurance. Small businesses, such as equipment rental stores that are not self-insured, would likely bear the brunt of this tax and it would constitute a competitive edge to those companies who are self-insured. House members were asked to support the repeal by passing H.R. 1370 and S. 1880, the Jobs and Premium Protection Act.
The Supreme Court was hearing oral arguments on the constitutionality of PPACA’s individual mandate March 26-28, 2012, while ARA’s Legislative Caucus was taking place, which gave even more relevance to the issue. The Supreme Court’s decision is expected at the end of June, 2012.
ARAPAC caucus event breaks record
ARAPAC, the American Rental Association’s (ARA) political action committee, raised a record $20,000 this year at its annual reception on March 28, 2012, during ARA’s National Legislative Caucus in Washington, D.C. This year’s event featured guest speaker Rep. Bobby Schilling (R-Ill.).
In his remarks, Rep. Schilling commended small businesses owners for running their businesses in the same manner in which America should be run. “Small businesses know how to run America,” he said. “Thank you for what you do. What we need to do in government is what we do in small business. Separate wants from needs, prioritize needs and act.”
As part of the fundraising efforts, a Nook, donated by Buddy Stubbs, president of Busylad Rent-All in Tupelo, Miss., and ARAPAC chairman, was put up for auction. In addition, Stubbs once again offered “Friends of Buddy” status to those who contributed. When ARAPAC was short of the $20,000 goal by Thursday morning, a last-minute donation of $850 bumped the total over the goal.
More information about ARAPAC is available online at ARArental.org. Click on “ARAPAC” in the drop-down menu under “Government Affairs.” — Sarah Peterson