Do you know Jack? Featured

9:50am EDT July 22, 2002

Jack Faris, president and CEO of the National Federation of Independent Business, visited Columbus earlier this year to meet with Gov. Bob Taft and a handful of local business owners. During his trip, Faris took time with SBN to reflect upon his years at NFIB and the state of independent business today. Here’s what he had to say:

Q. You’ve been leading the NFIB for seven years now. What do you consider your greatest accomplishment in that time?

A. No. 1 would be that I’ve not embarrassed my mother in those seven years. I’m real proud of that. I came up from Nashville, Tenn., to Washington, D.C., to take on responsibility for an organization that, at the time, was taking on a pretty major battle with the [White House] administration over health care. I think that we, through our organization, were able to win a large battle with the administration. That would be something we’re pretty proud we’ve done.

Q. What has been your biggest disappointment in the past seven years?

A. My biggest disappointment is it still amazes me that small businesses across the country still have not coalesced as a voting block. We’re trying to get small businesses to understand that one twig is easy to break but many twigs together are hard to break. I’m disappointed I haven’t been able to get more [involvement]. It’s really hard to do it. Most business owners are just so busy. But once they do get involved — look out.

Q. What one piece of legislation would you most like to see Congress pass?

A. Sunset the IRS code. The one tax that small business fears the most is the IRS because of the complexity and the uncertainty. It’s not the one we pay the most. We pay the most in payroll tax. But if you said, ‘If there’s one thing that could have the most significance to small business, what would it be?’ it would be having a new, simpler, fairer tax code. We are not going to let that go. We’re going to continue to fight that. But we don’t see that being passed with this Congress and this president.

Q. What piece of legislation currently being considered by Congress do you fear most?

A. The biggest thing would be a bill like the Patients’ Bill of Rights. It would open Pandora’s box in health care. That would be such a disaster for small business. So many would have to drop their coverage. They wouldn’t be able to run the liability risk.

Q. Are business owners today more or less politically active than in the past?

A. I think they have been more active in the last two or three election cycles than they have been overall for some time. Ninety-two percent of our members vote on a regular basis. Sixty-four percent get involved in campaigns in some way. We’re pretty ‘God, flag and country’ people, so we’re going to find a lot more support in the political process with our members than with Frank and Bob Public.

One of our concerns is there’s a great deal of apathy. People are losing their sense of pride in the White House, which is a byproduct of this whole affair situation. It has nothing to do with business, but people are just fed up with the whole thing.

Q. What prompted you, personally, to become politically involved?

A. Frankly, it goes back to 1950 when my father, who owned and operated a service station, ran for the school board. I saw the struggle he went through. He taught me early on that if you don’t get involved in the process in your community, you’ll have to live with what others decide.

Another reason was Joe Rogers [a friend] owned a construction company and adamantly believed construction’s biggest obstacle was government. Not the weather, not the economy, but government. Owning my own business [a management consulting firm] for 12 years, it was something I had to face. I really believe our whole economy is dependent on small business. We don’t need our government being our biggest problem.

Q. Are independent businesses better off today than they were 10 years ago?

A. Yes. I think we’re better off for two reasons. No. 1, because we’ve had a sustained growth in this economy, which has allowed us to get debt paid back and carefully expand. We’re more concerned about the death tax than before because we have more [wealth] than before; we’ve had more financial success.

The second thing being better off is, 10 years ago the debate was, ‘What was the new tax? And where will we get it?’ The debate today is, ‘What are we going to do with this surplus?’ The economy has been so good. So our direction has gone from trying to stop things to getting things accomplished.

Nancy Byron (nbyron@sbnnet.com) is an editor and statehouse correspondent for SBN.