It was the stuff of dramatic television: A too-close-to-call presidential race that, after months of turmoil and heated debate, ends up in the hands of the Supreme Court to decide. The 2000 election seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime event — but don’t be so sure that it won’t happen again. Recent national polls have shown President George W. Bush and his democratic rival Sen. John Kerry are in a dead heat as the November 2nd election nears.

That means, once again, that every vote truly counts. There are tens of thousands of building service contractors across the country (there are more than 6,000 in California alone). If the group voted as a block, it could have a real impact on the outcome of the national election.

It is commonly believed that the majority of BSCs are Republican. The party is known for being business-friendly; however, BSCs don’t necessarily vote based on what most benefits their business. Instead, personal beliefs often drive their decisions.

“I think a lot of building service contractors think that they can’t influence the outcome so they use personal beliefs on who to vote for,” says Pete Conaty, lobbyist for Pacific Association of Building Service Contractors (PABSCO). “But if they would concentrate on business issues, they would be a lot more successful than they ever thought.”

“I vote for people who share my philosophical thinking,” says Arlo Luke, president and CEO of Varsity Contractors, Inc. in Pocatello, Idaho.

Luke says he is conservative and tends to vote Republican. “I can’t be self-centered on my own personal business. I have a global view and I vote based on what’s best for our country and people’s ability for growth in life.”

Democrat Dan Draper, president and CEO of Nationwide Janitorial in South Bend, Ind., may not agree with Luke on much in politics, but he does agree that voting is about what feels right personally, not what benefits business.

Of course, both Draper and Luke believe that voting for what’s fundamentally right will ultimately also benefit their business.

“I look at what is right, what is moral, and what is best for the country and for the world,” Draper says. “I figure if it’s moral and right for the world, then it’s also what’s right for me and my business.”

Important issues
Clearly the most pressing issues in this year’s national elections are war and terror. Not far behind those important matters, however, is the economy. While BSCs care about international policy (both for personal and business reasons), they are often more worried about the issues that directly impact their business.

One of those issues is the minimum wage. Surprisingly, this is one subject on which many BSCs agree.

“If the minimum wage increases, everyone is affected equally,” Draper says. “I don’t consider that a negative. What I consider a negative is people who work hard all week and don’t take home enough money to provide for their families. I can’t change that because if I pay my people too much money, my competition will eat me alive.”

Luke agrees.

“It will definitely affect my business because it increases my costs and margins and, in most cases, my customers won’t give me a raise,” he says. “But, we need to give people that benefit.”

What would make a minimum wage hike universally appealing to BSCs is if they can pass the costs along to their customers. This is crucial, Conaty says, because of a growing problem for BSCs—the underground economy of contract cleaners who use unethical or illegal practices to win bids.

“One of the big issues is subcontracting and the fear that a lot of retail chains sign contracts with national companies who then go subcontract with firms that might not be collecting all their taxes and worker’s comp premiums and paying minimum wage,” Conaty says. “This really puts the ethical contractors at a monetary disadvantage.”

Even without the unlevel playing field caused by shady BSCs, the industry is plagued by rising worker’s compensation rates. It’s another issues that promises to weigh heavy on BSCs minds as they enter the polls to vote.

“Worker compensation rates are a huge problem for all businesses, but especially for labor intensive businesses like janitorial,” Conaty says. PABSCO has supported reforms in California that appear be taking hold and lowering these rates, he adds.

Another hot-button issue is health care. This is an issue about which both major-party candidates have strong opinions. It’s also a topic that affects businesses and every citizen.

“I think health care is the perennial issue,” Draper says. “But it needs to be addressed in some way that balances small business’ ability to pay and providing a real meaningful program that gives the masses what they need.”

Get out and vote
Partisan issues aside, the one thing about which everyone agrees in this election year is the importance of voting. Draper is pushing his employees to register to vote and hopes to bring at least 100 new voters to the polls this year. Luke is equally passionate about American’s voting privilege.

“When people don’t vote, what comes out is not representative of the people,” Luke says. “It allows the minority, who have a cause, to rule the majority. If 80 percent of the people voted and they voted in the wrong guy, then that’s their opinion. But when only 20 percent of the people vote the wrong guy in and then everyone else sits around and complains about it, I think w e have a real problem.”

Conaty puts it a bit more simply: “As the old saying goes — if you don’t vote, you don’t have a right to complain.”

Becky Mollenkamp is a business writer based in Des Moines, Iowa. She is a frequent contributor to Contracting Profits.

On The Issues
The rhetoric of the 2004 presidential race has focused largely on such key topics as terrorism and the war in Iraq. There has been much less discussion of the issues important to business so we’ve rounded up the positions of the nominees on some of these matters:
  George W. Bush/Dick Cheney John Kerry/John Edwards
Taxes Many of President Bush’s tax cuts are set to expire in 2005. He proposes that these reductions become permanent, including many small-business cuts. Wants to repeal Bush’s tax cuts for Americans who make more than $200,000.
Minimum Wage Will work with Congress to study the various minimum wage proposals. Will raise the minimum wage from $5.15 to $7 an hour and indexing it to inflation.
Job Creation Has proposed $500 million for his Jobs for the 21st Century initiative; half of the money is for community colleges to train workers for industries that are creating new jobs today. Proposes to create 3 million jobs within his first 500 days in office.
Health Care Supports Health Savings Accounts (HSA). Proposes these additional steps to make health insurance more affordable and accessible:

• Creating Association Health Plans that allow small businesses to band together through trade groups to negotiate for lower insurance rates

• Offer a refundable $1,000 tax credit to lower-income Americans who purchase their own health insurance.

• Adopt minimum standards to make the medical liability system fairer and to eliminate frivolous medical lawsuits that raise the cost of medical services.

• Allow individuals with HSAs to deduct 100 percent of the premium for catastrophic coverage from their taxes

Will create the Congressional Health Plan, an extended version of the Federal Employees Health Care Benefits Program, which currently provides insurance to 9 million federal workers For Americans in this health plan, he proposes:

• Refundable tax credits of up to 50 percent of premiums for small businesses.

• A tax credit of 75 percent of premiums to workers between jobs.

• A tax credit of 25 percent of premiums for Americans age 55 to 64.

• Reimbursing companies 75 percent of catastrophic claims.

Web Site
An Alternative Choice
The news you read and hear about the presidential election may be focused almost entirely on Bush and Kerry, but there are actually nearly 100 official candidates for the job (see for the entire list). The affect of most of these candidates, including independents and write-ins, will be inconsequential, with the exception of independent Ralph Nader. Here’s a quick rundown on Nader’s positions on several key issues:
Taxes: Raise taxes on “unfavorable” behaviors and products (tobacco, pollution, gambling, luxury items) and lower taxes on basic necessities (food and clothing). Displace some of the taxes on work and essentials with a small tax on stock, bond, and derivative transactions.
Minimum Wage: Raise it to $8 now and to $10 in two years.
Health Care: Replace America’s market-based system with a single-payer (or universal) health care plan.