Business advocacy organizations say elections this year critical

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Published: October 1,2007

Business advocacy organizations in Mississippi are heavily involved with this year’s campaign season because the outcome has a big impact on a large number of issues affecting the viability of businesses in the state.

The NFIB (the National Federation of Independent Business) gives small- and independent-business owners a voice in shaping the public policy issues that affect their business, said NFIB state director Ron Aldridge.

“NFIB’s powerful network of grassroots activists sends its views directly to state and federal lawmakers through our unique member-only ballot, thus playing a critical role in supporting America’s free enterprise system,” Aldridge said. “NFIB’s mission is to promote and protect the right of our members to own, operate and grow their businesses. Based on that mission, NFIB knows that if we don’t get involved in the election process, then those who get elected will certainly get involved in our business. Our members know we must have elected legislators who know what burdens are incurred for those who sign the front of a paycheck.”

He added that this year’s elections are critical as they relate to wealthy plaintiff oriented trial lawyer candidates and their involvement in down races in order to possibly effect a reversal of previously successful tort reform legislation.

“NFIB/MS must be vigilant and involved in the election process to insure election of candidates who understand and are open to solving the problems of small business, not turning back the clock to the days of jackpot justice,” Therefore NFIB makes endorsements and involves our members at the grassroots, having members in most every county of our state. NFIB’s endorsements are important for each candidate. Small-business owners and their employees vote in high numbers, and they are known for actively recruiting their friends, family members and acquaintances to go to the polls. NFIB has pledged to those it endorses that it will activate its grassroots network on their behalf.”

NFIB plans to send one or more election publications to their members prior to the election and will keep them informed on their Website at www.nfib.com/ms. In statewide races they will also be letting non-member small businesses know who’s “Best for Small Business” based on their evaluation of the candidates and the key issues.

“In our effort to be accountable to our members, we seek out candidates’ beliefs in regard to several issues, which our members have told us are important to them and which are current issues for our state’s legislative process,” Aldridge said. “Another key thing we do is compile a four-year voting record of current legislators on all the small business issues we promoted during the term. This is a critical information for our members to have so they have an accurate picture is whether what candidates say they are for or against actually complies with what they have actually done.”

NFIB and other business groups active in the election campaign said a top goal is to protect the significant tort reform passed in 2004 which has helped restore the economic, legal, and medical health of the state.

“The trial lawyers have a track record in every other state of making every effort to undo any major tort reform either through the legislative process or the courts,” Aldridge said. “Their huge involvement in this year’s elections is by design and their underlying cause is for that very purpose. They’ve proven that in numerous other states and in their own trial lawyer literature.

“Also of extreme importance is to hold the line on tax and fee increases that would be an inordinate burden on the backs of small businesses. One key unfair, discriminatory and antiquated tax that needs to be done away with is the annual inventory tax and personal property tax on a business’ furniture, fixtures and equipment.”

Aldridge said the cost of health insurance is still small businesses’ number one concern, and whatever can be done at the state level will help ease the difficulty of making it more affordable and accessible. Mississippi has one of the highest insurance premium taxes in the nation. Reducing that could immediately lower insurance premiums, thus providing some relief to every consumer. It would also give more economic incentive for insurance companies to do business here.

Another issue of extreme importance is the need to fully protect private property rights in the aftermath of the Kelo decision. Aldridge said. No government should be able to take a person’s private property for the benefit of another private entity.

“Other issues that our small businesses are concerned about include: making sure we don’t establish a separate state department of labor with further regulatory burdens on small business; other labor and employment issues related to unemployment taxes and workforce training; unfair government regulations and competition; workers’ compensation insurance reform; and, establishing a performance review process of state government,” he said.

The NFIB has endorsed the following in the statewide race: Haley Barbour for governor, Phil Bryant for lieutenant governor, Al Hopkins for attorney general and Mike Chaney for insurance commissioner.

Protecting tort reform progress a priority

The Mississippi Manufacturers Association (MMA) has endorsed the same candidates listed above and Delbert Hosemann for secretary of state. MMA also believes it is important to protect tort reform victories.

Mark Leggett, director of government affairs for the Mississippi Manufacturers Association, said it has been shown in other states that when the business community isn’t involved in maintaining tort reform, trial lawyers tend to be more motivated and run candidates. Then tort reforms can be watered down or repealed.

“We have seen that in a number of other states where there is a drop off in interest in elections after tort reform,” Leggett said. “We can’t let that happen. We don’t think that ought to happen so that is why we are involved in letting our members know about the importance of this election.”

MMA considers this one of the most important elections long term and in fact calls it a 14-year election. That is because U.S. Census numbers will come out in late 2010 or 2011. The legislators elected this term will draw the districts for the next 10 years from 2011 to 2021.

“So what people decide on November 6 has consequences out 14 years in who will be in the legislature,” Leggett said.

Workforce training and availability

Two primary interests are workforce training and availability. Those go together. A lot of Mississippi manufacturers are having trouble getting enough workers.

“We want to make sure they protect the workforce training funds that are there, and that they continue with the systems we have gotten refined over the past four years,” Leggett said. “Another issue we have related to that is immigration. We don’t want to the employer to have the burden of enforcing federal law or bear any of the sanction of not being able to do something that some law might require. There are laws that have been proposed that say you have to use the Social Security Web site to check on someone’s employability. Yet you go the Social Security Web site and it says, ‘Do not use this for checking employment status.’

“We don’t support anyone knowingly hiring illegal aliens and flouting federal law. But we don’t think the employer should be the one to enforce the federal law and bear that burden. We feel that is a federal issue. Almost every time states have gone into this, it has been overturned. Congress tried twice last year to do something and wasn’t able to move on it. That increases the desire to do something at the state level even if it would be overruled.”

Another important issue regards the state’s tax system. MMA believes the state’s tax system needs to be competitive because Mississippi manufacturers are vying not only with manufacturers in other states, but other countries such as China, too.”

MMA also supports regular performance reviews of state government. That could help save money and keep taxes low. And another issue is the Private Attorney Retention Sunshine Act, which would provide some oversight into the selection of private attorneys who contract with the attorney general’s offices so attorney generals don’t hire their friends or campaign contributors behind closed doors.

Marty Milstead, executive vice president of the Homebuilders Association of Mississippi, said the homebuilders are interested in electing representative who focus on business and are interested in helping build a better Mississippi.

“We want legislators who want to create jobs, make a better business climate and who are interesting in working with us in housing Mississippians,” Milstead said.

The HBAM has endorsed Barbour, Bryant, incumbent Attorney General Jim Hood, Stacey Pickering for state auditor and Hosemann for secretary of state.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette4@cox.net.

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