First Word: Make your voice heard

The next president of the United States will take the reins of a nation facing a long list of challenges – the economy, health care, infrastructure, energy sourcing, credit markets, illegal immigration, a strengthening Russia and the still-raging war on terrorism.

The two candidates, John McCain and Barack Obama, would take radically different approaches to many of these problems. As a business owner, you’ll want to pay close attention to the candidates’ views on matters affecting your firm. The outcome of the election will have a profound effect on the construction industry, your company and your personal financial situation in the years ahead.

One of the biggest influences on businesses and the economy in general will be tax policy. The massive tax cuts the Bush administration enacted in 2001 and 2003 are set to expire in 2010. While McCain would make nearly all those tax cuts permanent, Obama would redistribute them, providing more breaks for middle- and low-income households and increasing taxes for those in upper-income brackets. Of particular interest is the death tax, which I mentioned in last month’s column. Both candidates would reduce the rate and raise the exemption from pre-2001 levels (up to 55 percent for estates worth more than $1 million) but McCain would cut the tax much more than Obama. McCain also pledges to cut the top corporate income tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent. Obama says he would consider trimming corporate taxes as part of a simplification of the tax code.

When it comes to highways and other infrastructure, Obama has a voting record of supporting funding legislation while McCain has voted against many infrastructure bills, primarily due to the “pork” and earmarks contained in the bills. Obama says he would make strengthening the U.S. transportation system a “top priority,” and would create a national infrastructure bank to fund large transportation and water projects. McCain wants to eliminate the pork and earmarks in favor of a system-based approach.

This is not the election to sit back and think that our vote doesn’t matter. I urge you to delve beyond the news sound bites and find out as much as you can about the candidates’ records and plans (the comparison chart listed below can get you started), then make your voice heard November 4. This industry is filled with action-oriented people – we need your input now more than ever.

Issue Barack Obama John McCain
Immigration Both supported Bush-backed comprehensive immigration reform legislation and want new guest worker program to alleviate worker shortage
Issue Barack Obama John McCain
  • Death tax – For estates of $3.5 million or more ($7 million married couples); up to 45% rate
  • Corporate – Consider reducing as part of simplification of tax code
  • Other – Breaks for middle class and low-income seniors; income tax rates revert to 36% and 39.6% from 33% and 35% for households earning more than $250,000 ($200,000 for individuals)
  • Death tax – For estates worth more than $5 million; 15% rate
  • Corporate – Lower top rate of 35% to 25%
  • Other – Maintain current (Bush tax cut) rates
Issue Barack Obama John McCain
  • Highways – Supported SAFETEA-LU, which provides $286.4 billion in funding for FY 2004 through FY 2009; favors congestion pricing
  • Fuel tax – Opposes moratorium
  • School construction – Supports increased investment (no specific plan)
  • Water – Voted for the Water Resources Development Act (federal funding program; has to be reauthorized regularly) and led efforts to bring to Senate vote in 2006
  • Highways – Voted against SAFETEA-LU (2005) and a $318 billion highway and transportation bill (2004)
  • Fuel tax – Supports summer holiday
  • School construction – Voted against amendment authorizing $1.6 billion in 2002 to repair public school buildings
  • Tried to block WRDA
Issue Barack Obama John McCain
  • Would require employers who don’t offer retirement plans to set up IRA-type accounts; all companies would automatically enroll employees in 401(k)s or IRAs
  • Cosponsor of Employee Free Choice Act (proposed bill would eliminate secret ballot option when majority of workers sign union cards)
  • Would repeal executive order prohibiting project labor agreements for federally funded work
  • Introduced federal legislation to limit employers’ discretion in classifying workers as independent contractors
  • Would require companies to automatically enroll their employees in retirement plans they offer
  • Opposes Employee Free Choice Act
  • Opposes expanding Davis-Bacon Act, which established the requirement for paying prevailing wages on public works projects.
Issue Barack Obama John McCain
Healthcare Plan highlights:
  • Create a national network of public and private plans for those without other access to insurance.
  • Require employers to offer a plan, help pay for employee costs or pay into national health care network; Small businesses meeting certain revenue thresholds would be exempt and receive tax credit on premiums paid on behalf of employees
Plan highlights:
  • Allow individuals to join association health plans and expand Health Savings Accounts
  • Provide $2,500 tax credit ($5,000 for families) to anyone who buys health insurance
  • Create federally subsidized, state-administered program offering coverage to low-income households
Issue Barack Obama John McCain
  • Would invest $150 billion over 10 years in clean energy; double science and research funding for clean energy; promote oil independence by reducing oil consumption 25% by 2030
  • Would expand domestic oil and natural gas production; diversify and conserve energy sources; rely on technological advances and free markets to produce the means to accomplish this