ARA members press industry concerns on Capitol Hill
By Brock Huffstutler
April 9, 2023
Nearly 60 members of the American Rental Association (ARA) gathered in Washington, D.C., March 28-30, 2023, for ARA’s National Legislative Caucus. The event brings members of the equipment and event rental industry to Capitol Hill to meet with their elected officials to discuss the issues and concerns of the industry.
Thanks to a Capitol that is now reopened to the public, it was the first time ARA was able to host Caucus since 2019.
Caucus attendees had the opportunity to meet with members of the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives and their staff members. During these meetings, attendees talked about four key industry issues:
- Workforce development
- H-2B visas
- Tax policy
- Catalytic converter thefts
Caucus kicked off Tuesday afternoon with an opening session featuring Jim Ellis, senior political analyst with BIPAC (Business Industry Political Action Committee) — a nonpartisan organization that works to improve the political climate in America for the business community and help employers and employees play a more active role in public policy and the political process.
Ellis talked about trends seen in recent election cycles and how their outcomes portend what could occur in the 2024 presidential and congressional contests. “We’re definitely living in an interesting time in American political history,” he said.
The session was followed by a welcome reception, where Caucus attendees could meet one another and network with other equipment and event rental professionals from around the country.
On Wednesday morning, everyone headed to Capitol Hill to meet with lawmakers and staff members. Attendees shared facts, figures and personal stories about how workforce development, H-2B visas, taxes and catalytic converter thefts affect their lives, businesses and the industry.
This year, ARA collaborated with partners from Capitol Counsel and Bose Public Affairs Group to strategically set appointments with the staff of Congressional members who serve on influential committees. For maximum impact, these meetings were participated in by ARA members who are uniquely familiar with the issues or whose businesses reside in the committee members’ districts.
“We changed the format a lot this year. We wanted to try to be more impactful and do some things that were segment-specific, and I think that we accomplished those,” says John McClelland, Ph.D., ARA vice president for government affairs and chief economist. “The energy our members brought to Caucus this year was just phenomenal. It feels great to be back in the game.”
Barb Wyatt, Butler Rents, Glendale, Colo., who serves on ARA’s Event Rental Advocacy Group, has attended Caucus several times and knows the impact it can have.
“That personal touch is so important,” she says. “We can all send letters to our congresspeople, but for them to hear our issues and how they directly affect our businesses — that’s invaluable. And being here, you don’t always get to meet your congresspeople, but you’re meeting young staffers who may soon become congresspeople and they’re going to get to know about our industry. Education and awareness are half the battle.”
“This was a new and exciting experience the whole way around,” says Travis Shafer, Shafer Equipment Co., Chambersburg, Pa., a first-time Caucus attendee. “I wanted to be part of this to preserve what the rental industry is now and find ways to improve it in the future.”
After a day of meetings, everyone got back together for a reception during which a bottle of Angel’s Envy-brand bourbon with a commemorative engraving was raffled off to raise money for ARAPAC — ARA’s political action committee. $14,300 was raised through the raffle; the money will be used to support candidates running for federal office who support a pro-business environment — regardless of party affiliation.
It was back to Capitol Hill on Thursday morning for a final round of meetings with legislators and their staff. Then, Caucus wrapped up with a lunch at the Capitol Hill Club that featured guest speaker U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood (R-Ill.).
Over the course of the 2023 Caucus, attendees logged approximately 170 appointments with lawmakers.
“I feel like the staffers we spoke with were very receptive to our issues,” says John Jeanguenat, RentalMax, Carol Stream, Ill., who serves on ARA’s Equipment Rental Advocacy Group and co-chairs the association’s Equipment Rental Shared Interest Group. “We came prepared; I tried to do my homework and come in with a game plan since this was my first time at Caucus. That preparation helped get the conversations started and really get them thinking about the issues that affect rental businesses.”
“Everyone we met with seemed to sincerely care about our issues,” says another first-time attendee, Brandon Marrs of Top Gunn Equipment Rentals, Austin, Texas. “Now it’s on us to follow up and move forward from here. We have to keep pushing. There’s more work to be done after this.”
Steve Mau of Brainerd General Rental, Brainerd, Minn., ARA president and a member of the Equipment Rental Advocacy Group, stressed the importance of Caucus attendees telling their stories to persons of influence on Capitol Hill.
“A lot of people don’t know what our industry does and the role we play in our communities and in the economy,” Mau says. “We acquire equipment and share that resource. That makes us efficient, and people see that sustainability model and its impact on the environment. Telling folks the role that we play is important.”
ARA’s focus issues at Caucus
Issue — The equipment and event rental industry faces a labor shortage in high-skilled positions including service technicians, drivers, welders, tent installers and project managers. The American Rental Association (ARA) has developed a multipronged workforce development program to promote careers in the industry but believes there also is a role for the federal government in promoting technical training and apprenticeship programs.
Action requested — Enaction of the Jumpstart Our Businesses (JOBS) Act. This legislation would expand eligibility for federal Pell Grant programs to individuals pursuing short-term, high-quality education and training programs to address the worker shortage by closing the skills gap.
ARA also supports the use of tax incentives for businesses to spur workforce development programs like apprenticeships that create a pathway for students to enter the workforce with on-the-job experience or partnerships with higher education institutions to graduate students with skills the rental industry needs.
Issue — The H-2B visa program for temporary seasonal (unskilled, nonagricultural) workers has been critical to ARA members, especially those in the event segment with seasonal events that are very labor-intensive. The inability to obtain H-2B workers year to year, processing costs, and lack of an electronic platform causes tremendous business uncertainty and further burdens businesses struggling to recover from pandemic shutdowns.
Action requested — ARA supports the H-2B Returning Worker Exception Act of 2021, which modifies the H-2B nonimmigrant visa program by exempting certain workers from the annual numerical limit on H-2B visas and enacting civil penalties for program violations. Under this bill, a worker seeking a H-2B visa who has been counted toward the 66,000 annual cap on such visas in one of the three preceding fiscal years will not be counted against the cap again.
Issue — Several tax provisions used by ARA members — many of which are pass-through entities — are phasing out and will negatively impact their ability to replenish or expand their fleet or comply with requirements to provide electric equipment to job sites and event venues.
Action requested — ARA is interested in the following tax provisions:
- Permanent extension of full expensing/bonus depreciation, which is phasing out and will be eliminated by 2026.
- The Qualified Business income deduction in Section 199 A(i). Section 199(A) is set to expire in 2025. If not extended or made permanent, many small independent businesses will face a major tax increase. ARA supports making Section 199(A) permanent.
- Under current law, R&D expenses — incurred by many rental businesses when they develop efficiency-improving systems — must be amortized over five or 15 years. ARA supports making the R&D tax credit permanent and fully deductible in the year the expense is incurred.
- The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) provides incentives for businesses purchasing zero emission and hybrid vehicles (including mobile machinery) and related charging infrastructure. The rental industry is looking for guidance from Treasury on a number of issues surrounding the use of these types of vehicles.
Catalytic converter theft
Issue — The National Insurance Crime Bureau reports a 1,215 percent increase in catalytic converter thefts since the pandemic began. Last year, ARA members alone reported 38 percent more instances of theft. Replacement costs to vehicle owners averages over $2,500.
Action requested — Passage of the Preventing Auto Recycling Theft (PART) Act that has been introduced in both the House and Senate. The act would assist law enforcement in combating rising catalytic converter theft by providing a national framework that would mark catalytic converters with an identifying mark traceable to the Vehicle Registration Number (VIN), establish federal criminal penalties and create a more transparent market that deters theft.