Operators Organize Despite Tough Odds

Posted on March 5, 2014 by - Also by this author

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — There is a popular saying, commonly attributed to Pericles, that you may not be interested in politics, but politics is interested in you. It’s fashionable in this era of political strife to be apolitical, above it all, bipartisan, or just independent — too cool to air your views.

If you are a business owner, especially in California, that simply won’t work. Politics is not only interested in you, it never leaves you alone. You can forget about avoiding it. I was reminded of this reality last week when I accompanied a group of limousine company owners from the Greater California Livery Association on a visit to legislators at the State Capitol.

While riding in a Suburban SUV from the airport chauffeured by GCLA board director Chris Quinn, the default conversation among Chris and five other California limo operators was all about business. They swapped stories about vehicles, operations, financing — the things that should be occupying the time and attention of operators.

As the SUV neared the downtown government district, the talk of course had to move on to the politics of lobbying, as we were headed to the offices of Government Affairs Consulting, the GCLA retained lobbying firm. Lobbyists Gregg Cook and Rob Grossglauser had set up the day of appointments and visits to state legislative offices.

California operators face the most difficult business environment in the industry, save for maybe New York or New Jersey.

The state, despite its Silicon Valley-Hollywood-Disney gloss to the world, is a basket case. Business owners and executives continuously rate it the worst environment for business. California has among the highest unemployment rates and net outflows of middle class residents and corporations of all states in the union. Taxes, fuel costs and housing prices far outpace national averages. Aggressive environmentalists and public sector labor unions coupled with a decades-long tradition of political activism hamper genuine efforts for economic and fiscal reforms. Oh, and the drought-stricken state needs an enhanced water network while politicians fantasize about building a bullet train.

It is not a coincidence that Sacramento is completely run by the members of one political party, who hold supra-majorities in both houses of the Legislature and occupy almost the entire executive branch. In a telling anecdote of political absurdity, even the Democratic Lieutenant Governor visited with the Republican Texas Governor in 2011 to see how that state has become the nation’s leading job generation engine. Three years later, the lessons do not appear to have sunk in. Most recently, Hollywood workers are now protesting the outflow of entertainment industry jobs to other states that — surprise surprise — use better tax and business incentives!

I mention all of this because it’s just the background for the arena in which the limousine industry must do business. High fees, insurance costs, regulatory compliance, illegal operators, mostly unregulated rideshare app companies, and costly safety legislation are the smorgasbord of challenges confronting transportation operators. All they want to do is simply run legal luxury fleet services that get people from point A to point B safer and more comfortable than anything else rolling on the ground. 

That’s why days like Feb. 26, when 23 operators headed to Sacramento in a political environment taxing to small business owners, deserve to be noted and hailed. Despite the odds, these operators hold out hope and work to get the system to listen. I was encouraged to see the operators return from their visits with positive observations and indications overall. Regardless of politics and the lopsided partisan landscape, they are playing the cards they’ve been dealt.

The only troubling aspect to the day was the fact that there were only 23 participants — out of about 310 members in the GCLA, out of at least 5,000 charter party carriers in California. That’s only 7.5% of the membership. So where was everyone else? Heads up: Politics is prowling for you.

— Martin Romjue, LCT editor

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