Greg Casteel, National Limousine Association (NLA) president, has recently completed his 18th month in that office. When he assumed the NLA presidency, one of the industry’s most pressing concerns was the independent contractor issue. Since that time, he has led the NLA to an independent contractor victory and has rekindled the association’s intense desire to defeat the Gas Guzzler Tax.
Independent Contractor Issue Resolved
“After almost five years of struggle, and the work of numerous past presidents and directors, the IRS has established clear guidelines for limousine operators to employ independent contractors,” says Casteel. “I spoke to an accountant the other day who reviewed the new guidelines and he was amazed that our trade organization had persuaded the IRS to change the rules.”
The NLA fought long and hard to get section 530 of the independent contractor agreement revised. Originally, if an operator was under audit, he or she had to show that a “substantial” amount of limousine company owners in that operator’s metropolitan area conducted business in the same manner in regard to independent contractors. However, there was no set figure for the term “substantial.” Everyone had their own interpretation. NLA representatives were finally able to persuade Congress that 25 percent was considered “substantial.”
Further, in previous cities where operators have been audited and victorious under section 530, those areas are now exempt from audit because of the precedence that was previously set.
“This independent contractor victory gives us all confidence that we can defeat the Gas Guzzler Tax and, believe me, it will be much easier than beating the IRS,” he says.
Casteel bristles at the basic unfairness of the Gas Guzzler Tax. “When an operator buys a limousine, he or she has to pay an extra couple thousand dollars because of this tax,” says Casteel. “Other commercial vehicles are exempt. If a business owner is paying $200,000 for an 18-wheel truck, another $2,000 is not a big deal. However, if an operator is paying $57,000 for a limousine, the tax has much more financial impact.”
According to Casteel, the industry is in a much better position to defeat the Gas Guzzler Tax in 1997. “First of all, unlike the IRS battle, we have put aside $100,000 that is earmarked to defeat this tax,” he says. “We have talked to other trade associations and have realized that you need to put a significant amount of money into a fight like this.”
Because of the success with the independent contractor issue, the NLA as a whole believes that it will be easier to get members excited about beating the Gas Guzzler Tax. “This reminds me of when the yachting industry was able to defeat the luxury tax,” says Casteel, “They did this by lobbying Congress with the people in the yachting industry who were adversely affected by the tax. Whole groups of small town New England yacht builders lined the halls of Congress and told them how their livelihoods were being destroyed. We need to do the same thing. Our business is not wealthy people renting out stretch limousines. Many of us are home-based operators. We need everyone to visit their Congress people and tell them to exempt us from the Gas Guzzler Tax.”
NLA Goes to Bat For Members
The NLA has been very effective in handling complaints about problem vehicles purchased by member companies. Casteel says that manufacturers have been responsive to the NLA.
“They pay attention when we call on a member’s behalf,” says Casteel. “We had an operator whose vehicle was in the shop three of the first four months he had it. The poor guy was in a panic because he had a small fleet and was depending on the vehicle to survive. It was obvious that the vehicle could not be fixed. In two months, we were able to get the manufacturer to replace it with a new one. We all felt fantastic that we were able to help.”
Another major accomplishment has been the initiation of the NLAs Web site. The site provides operators with a geographical member listing; information on member companies; a listing of associate members that includes manufacturers, suppliers, and vendors; a consumer guide that addresses consumer concerns; links to other member companies; association information; and updates on the annual national convention.
“The beauty of the Web site is that a member does not even have to have a computer to benefit,” says Casteel. “We list the member’s name, address, phone number, and the type of vehicles they are providing. Members are constantly calling our office telling us about how they are getting inquiries and making sales.”
Casteel conceded that the limousine industry has been far from the cutting edge in technology, “When Charlie Wisniewski stood up five years ago and started telling us about the Internet, there was a room full of blank faces,” he says. “I think the industry has made significant strides”
Casteel stresses the importance of education. “When we partnered with Limousine & Chauffeured Transportation for the trade show, we really wanted to stress that this was a sort of ‘Limousine College.’ Every professional should take continuing education classes to help themselves run a better business. For a few hundred dollars, an operator can learn an awful lot at this annual event.”
The NLA officers and board of directors have also spoken at regional limousine association meetings nationwide. “It helps us to educate and inform operators everywhere,” he says.
Casteel believes that the 1997 operator is much more knowledgeable. “In the limousine industry’s last 50 years, I would be willing to say that more has happened in the area of education in the last 10 years than in the previous 40 years. When I went to our first national trade show over 10 years ago, we still had guys in fur coats with a girl on each arm. We have come a long way.”
Despite the long hours and his volunteer status, Casteel has enjoyed his time as NLA president. The Portland, OR, operator has particularly enjoyed working with the interesting mix of styles and personalities on the board of directors.
“I have learned a tremendous amount about the business from these people,” says Casteel. “It’s amazing that you have all these ultra competitive business owners who are used to doing things their own way, but we all genuinely like each other and we check our egos at the door.”