Friday, December 29, 2017

Who is this Bob Confer guy?

In the coming days, readers of this fine newspaper will have a new weekly columnist on the opinion page. Many of you might be familiar with my work. Most won’t be. Please allow me to introduce myself and the column.

For more than twelve-and-a-half years I’ve written an opinion column for the Greater Niagara Newspapers which are the Niagara Gazette and Lockport Union-Sun and Journal. That collection of dailies once included the now defunct Tonawanda News and Medina Journal-Register.

Over those dozen years I’ve tackled a variety of topics but most of my pieces have centered on public policy. I try to stay away from politics, focusing more on the things that matter. The he-said-she-said machinations of politics don’t really impact your day-to-day life, but laws, regulations, and taxes certainly do and those are the sorts of things I like to get my readers educated, engaged, and even enraged about.

This past week, the Daily News’ editor, John Anderson – someone whose work with the Wellsville Daily Reporter I always admired – reached out to me to see if my column could also run here for the benefit of Genesee County residents. I got the OK from my Niagara County editor, so here I am.

You might wonder, what bent do I write from? Based on the aforementioned basis of my columns (analyzing what government does to you) you might think I’m a conservative. I’ve been called that. But, I’ve also been called an Americanist. More so, I’ve been labeled a libertarian.

No one’s really been able to peg me, which is good. I try not to work under labels and stereotypes and my columns have proven that. I’ve been equal opportunity -- Republican and Democrat policies alike have been fair game.

My always-evolving worldview has been forged from a rural upbringing (I have always lived in Gasport), my career (I am the President of Confer Plastics in North Tonawanda) and my volunteerism (I am the President of the board of the Batavia-based Iroquois Trail Council). I like to think that running a business of decent size (250 employees) and a social service non-profit affords me an in-depth exposure to issues that affect businesses and people and, in turn, the economy and society. So, you will notice that my columns are based in real world experiences and not just theory.

Over the years, that diversity of thought has allowed the column to act in impactful ways. For example, it led to a couple of massive activist campaigns which turned back some regulations that would have killed family farms; and it has helped local businesses understand the capitalistic and moral benefit to employing forgotten Americans like refugees and former convicts.

What? A fellow who blasts government yet sticks up for the oppressed? See what I mean about labels!

I hope that you enjoy what’s to come. You might not always agree with what I write, but sometimes you will. That mix of difference of opinion and shared beliefs is to be expected and it’s what makes newspapers like the Daily News so useful to discourse and activism in America. Otherwise, we’re left to the mercy of social media, larger media conglomerates, and political parties, all of which have created a one-side-versus-the-other routine that’s really bad for this country. We can rise above that. I hope my column shows you that. I look forward to being a part of your newspaper experience.    

From the 29 December 2017 Batavia Daily News

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Tax reform will benefit small businesses

There’s a narrative out there that only large corporations will benefit from the tax reform initiatives pushed by the House, Senate, and Trump Administration. That’s a rather narrow-minded and incorrect outlook that overlooks the very real and measurable impact that will come to Main Street, USA.

Almost all businesses, especially the small ones, will win.

The most significant impact to them comes from the cut to the tax rates.

The corporate rate drops to 21% from 35% for any entity classified as a “C” corporation, which is a double-taxed business that pays corporate taxes while its shareholders pay income taxes.

For those businesses classified as “S” corps and limited liability companies (LLCs), which are usually smaller operations that pass-through the income (the business itself doesn’t pay taxes but the shareholders include the profits and losses on their personal returns), it’s a little less cut and dry but meaningful nonetheless. Under the new rules, owners will be allowed a 20% reduction in pass-through income. The goal is to cap those businesses’ tax rates at 25%, rather than having them pay the higher ordinary income tax. 
Taking those two changes into consideration, most businesses will have more of their money to work with. Places like farms, restaurants, hardware stores, garages, machine shops, factories, hotels, theme parks and newspapers – the businesses that keep our local economies humming – all stand to gain.

It’s a welcome development, for sure, because we’ve been the ones shouldering the load.

The large corporations who are allegedly the only winners in tax reform are already paying small percentages and sometimes nothing at all. They have armies of accountants and legal counsel on staff who can find all the loopholes and havens that have allowed them to avoid taxation. According to a March report from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, roughly half of the Fortune 500 companies that were consistently profitable between 2008 and 2015 had just a 21% effective tax rate over that eight-year period. Eighteen companies on that list paid no federal income taxes for that same period – name brands like General Electric, International Paper, and

We little guys who don’t play such games – either because we’re too busy running our businesses or because we aren’t so conniving -- have instead been paying a really hefty dose of taxes. To give you a real world perspective, my company, Confer Plastics, Inc., paid around a million dollars in federal income taxes in each of the past two years. Think about that: GE is nearly 4,000 times larger than CPI by revenue alone, yet we’re the one paying Uncle Sam.

Tax reform will give the moms-and-pops some of that big time benefit that has been reaped by the big boys – except we will put it to worthwhile use in our businesses and, therefore, our communities. Having access to hundreds of thousands more every year, given similar success to the past two, will cause me to pay off debt, invest in equipment and new product lines, compete better globally, and employ more people. I can see the same thing happening to farms and factories – the wealth-creating sectors of our economy -- across the region. The tax cuts afford all of us real, immediate and almost unprecedented economic development.

This isn’t what those on the left want you to believe. They want you to think that the fat cats will get paid and there’s no positive net effect to their businesses and employees. Really? If I was interested in paying almost nothing in corporate income taxes, wouldn’t I have given myself a massive bonus to minimize company profits? I didn’t, and most business owners don’t, because we invest in our companies. That’s what makes a good operation a great one (and a sustainable one).

Similarly, I recently had a tiff with someone on social media who said that growth would occur without cuts because investment in capital is tax exempt. Most business people I know don’t make investments based solely on tax exemptions because we never know what our profits will be by time the year closes out – anything, and I do mean anything, can happen. But, every businessperson will make decisions and moves on growth and risk based on access to capital (especially their own and not the bank’s) and that’s just the sort of thinking and action tax reform will inspire. Cash is king.

So, before you go on poo-pooing the cuts to tax rates and how they benefit the “evil” corporations, think about all the “good” ones in your hometown that will come out as big winners. There are great times ahead for small businesses, especially here in blue-collar Western New York where every single dollar will go a long way in helping the state’s moribund economy finally get back on track.      

From the 01 January 2018 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Farmers face a tired regulation

We keep hearing from the Governor’s office that New York State is open for business. While that might be true for large corporations for which the state sees fit to give millions of our dollars for them to come here, that misleading marketing campaign glosses over the fact that the Cuomo Administration and legislature have continued to make the Empire State one of the least attractive places in which to start a small business or grow an existing one due to costs and regulations.

Just look at what has been introduced to the New York economy over the past two years: a quantum leap in minimum wage rates was passed; an expansive paid family leave program was introduced; and some onerous employee scheduling standards have been proposed.

Those are just a few of the big items.

But, you can’t overlook the small things, too.

When the government get its hands in the minutiae of running a business you can’t help but laugh at the zealousness of their over-involvement, but it quickly turns out to be not-so-funny when you consider the ramifications of that overregulation.

A perfect example is the latest set of rules put upon farmers.

Take a drive across rural Niagara County and you will see countless old tractor and truck tires in use at farms holding down covers and tarpaulins that are protecting hay, straw, salt, and other feeds from the elements. If it weren’t for those tires, the tarps would blow over or away and the feedstock would be soaked by rain or snow.

Those tires are harmless enough, right?  

Not so to the Department of Environmental Conservation. To their policymakers, those tires are evil.

The DEC believes that such tires are breeding grounds for mosquitos and, in turn, viruses like West Nile. So, in their eyes, their use needs to be regulated. This fall, the agency introduced almost unbelievable standards to do just that.

The new rules mandate that only 0.25 passenger tire equivalents be used per square foot of cover area. But, farmers aren’t in most cases using tires from passenger cars to keep their tarps down. They are using much larger tires that expired through use on the farm. So, they have to crunch numbers and convert, mathematically, their truck and tractor tires into passenger tires. Under the DEC standards, a passenger tire equivalent is a tire with a rim of 17 inches or less.

As if trying to be a calculus major to manage your feedlot isn’t bad enough, none of those tires are allowed to be whole. In all cases, the DEC says they have to be either cut in half or have holes drilled through them.

That’s not an easy – or safe – undertaking.

Most tires in use as tarp weights are radial-ply, meaning there are wires in both the tread and side walls. It’s a very difficult task for farm laborers to have to mangle such tires and once they do, it puts the cattle – the feed of which they are trying to protect – at serious risk. If metal breaks free from the tires, which is likely, it could get into the fodder underneath the cover. If a dairy cow consumes that metal in even the smallest amounts, it will create life-threatening consequences from torn innards to choking to infection. Many cows will die because of these new rules now that the metals inside the tires are becoming what is a mandated exposure.  

The new standards go into effect May 2 of 2018. Farms have less than a half-year to be ready for DEC inspections and fines if they don’t comply. But compliance isn’t easy. Do they find alternative methods – if so what and then what becomes of the old tires they accumulate? Or, do they cut and drill tires hoping a worker isn’t hurt in the process or that a cow is killed by accidentally ingesting metal afterwards?  

Never mind that the Empire State has 2.4 million acres of wetlands in which the mosquitoes behind these rules are born; it’s those silly old tires that are the threat to public safety in the eyes of the Cuomo Administration.

Regulations like this show that New York State isn’t open for business -- it’s closed.

From the 25 December 2017 Greater Niagara Newspapers