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Open Letter to Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce

Looks like a broad coalition of business associations have been successful in their efforts on behalf of New Mexico businesses in fighting an unwarranted, unwelcomed and economically crippling tax pushed by Governor Bill Richardson (subscription).

The House late Sunday narrowly passed a much weakened version of Gov. Bill Richardson’s universal health coverage proposal.

On a 37-31 vote, the House passed a bill that had been completely rewritten over the weekend by the House Judiciary Committee. That bill eliminated Richardson’s plan to require all New Mexicans to have health insurance and to tax some employers who do not offer their employees health insurance [emphasis added].

Of course, the one business organization that CANNOT claim this as a victory for common sense is the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce (GACC). The GACC was actually the only business organization whose leadership took it upon themselves to be vocal supporters of this seriously misguided legislation.

As such, the coalition made up of organizations, who remember that their first obligation is to protect their members interest, is taking this as an opportunity to remind the GACC of what it means to actually represent the interests of the business community:

An Open Letter
To the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce

Terri Cole, President/CEO GACC
Paul Sowards, Bank of Albuquerque
Don Chalmers, Don Chalmers Ford
Lonnie Talbert, Summitt Electric Supply
Rick Alvidrez, Miller Stratvert
Del Archuleta, Molzen-Corbin & Associates
Norm Becker, Manuel Lujan Insurance Inc.
Mike Burgess, KOB-TV
Frank Chavez, Pueblo of Sandia
Del Esparza, Esparza Advertising
Sherman McCorkle, Technology Ventures Cindy McGill, Public Service Company of NM (PNM)
Tom Morton, Albuquerque Convention Center
Cynthia Reinhart, KPMG, LLP
Ron Stern, Lovelace Health System
Cheryl Willman UNM Cancer Research Center
Greg Winegardner, Wells Fargo Bank NM
Michael Zientek, Gap Inc.
Eloise Gift, Keller Williams Realty

Dear Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors:

It is of great concern that the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce (GACC) consistently takes positions on legislation and public policy issues contrary to the interests of New Mexico businesses and in direct opposition to the welfare of small businesses in the state. GACC’s latest position advocating for the inclusion of employer sanctions in the “HealthSOLUTIONS” bill is unfathomable.

“HealthSOLUTIONS” places an impossible burden on New Mexico’s small businesses. The bill mandates employers pay an annual penalty or tax to the state of up to $500 for each full-time employee and up to $250 for every part-time employee. The definition of employee includes those working only 90 days a year, and “full-time” is defined as working as few as 20 hours a week! Unbelievably, the bill would expand this tax by 2011 to all businesses, no matter how small – even one or two employees.

Under the GACC supported “HealthSOLUTIONS” proposal, small businesses would be penalized for creating more jobs. New Mexico’s small businesses often have narrow profit margins that can’t absorb a $500 per employee tax on job creation. We should be doing exactly the opposite – creating subsidies for small businesses that can’t afford to both create jobs and offer health insurance.

Small businesses are the very strength of New Mexico’s economy. The proposed “HealthSOLUTIONS” tax would be economically crippling to labor-intensive businesses, including small manufacturers, restaurants, hotels, family farms, and retailers. By supporting this poorly designed legislation GACC is clearly advocating punishing and penalizing the small business engine which creates vitally important new jobs in New Mexico.

The big businesses represented on the GACC board can afford to pay health insurance premiums to their employees and most probably do. Unfortunately, many of these big businesses are also laying off workers at alarming rates.

We do not believe that a small group of 18 individuals representing big business interests, heavily state regulated industries, and a few chosen suppliers have the right to speak for the entire business community. We resent and reject your ongoing claims to the public and legislators that you are the “voice of business”, especially small businesses which you clearly do not represent. You should be aware that GACC is the only business group in favor of this healthcare proposal. Several other business organizations have formed an employers’ coalition to strongly oppose the “HealthSOLUTIONS” legislation. These groups include:

Association of Commerce and Industry
Associated Builders and Contractors
Dairy Farmers of America
Dairy Producers of New Mexico
Independent Petroleum Association of New Mexico
National Federation of Independent Business
New Mexico Farm and Ranch Bureau
New Mexico Grocers Association
New Mexico Ground Water Association
New Mexico Petroleum Marketers Association
New Mexico Restaurant Association

Your position on healthcare is yet another example of a long history of questionable policy making by the GACC. Your recent support of an increase in the minimum wage at the state level is another. The fact that you have yet again taken a politically expedient position, contrary to developing a vibrant private business climate in New Mexico, is no longer surprising. However, this year you miscalculated if you thought that we were going to sit quietly on the sidelines while you misrepresent the impacts of the proposed healthcare legislation on small businesses of New Mexico. In light of the severe impacts to small businesses and citizens of the state, we urge GACC to reconsider your position on healthcare legislation.

As a small business owner (and seriously reconsidering GACC member), I applaud this letter and fully support its message. I hope that if you are a business owner reading this blog, you will add your name in the comment section urging the GACC to reconsider their stance.

The bill as originally devised no longer exits. But, if the GACC wants to redeem itself, it must now issue a statement saying that, “We’ve heard the message loud and clear from our members and realize that our position in support of this bill was wrong. As such, we revoke any support for this legislation, and furthermore pledge to fight any future legislation that results in new taxes for New Mexico businesses.”