Be thankful for bureaucrats bearing gifts; they may even save you money



Trucking executives who saw big piles of federal regulations land on their desks this holiday season may be having trouble finding the positive aspects. But they should remember the story of the boy who was overjoyed when he saw his present — a big pile of manure. He explained his reaction by exclaiming, “I know there's a pony in here somewhere!” Here are some hidden ponies in the holiday paper pile.

In early December the IRS liberated several hundred thousand small businesses from having to pay employment taxes monthly. Previously, employers who accumulated $1,000 of employee and employer social security taxes, employee income tax withholding and unemployment tax had to remit the full amount due each month. The IRS raised this threshold to $2,500 as of January 1.

The IRS also made more firms eligible to use the cash method of accounting, retroactive to late 1999. Meanwhile, at press time, Congress was poised to undo the restrictions on the cash method that it passed a year ago.

DOT has proposed to give hazardous materials transporters a “pony” whose size depends on the size of the company. In a proposed rule published in the Federal Register December 7, DOT's Research and Special Programs Administration (RSPA) recommends cutting the hazmat registration fee from $300 to $275 for small businesses and from $2,000 to $500 for large firms.

The definition of “small” would follow the definitions set out under the new North American Industrial Classification System adopted by the Small Business Administration last October (see www.sba.gov/size). Comments on these proposals are due February 2.

RSPA hopes to deliver another proposal that may offer benefits to hazmat haulers: clarification of the overlapping or uncertain jurisdictions of several federal and state agencies regarding loading, unloading and storing of hazmats.

The Labor Dept.'s Pension and Welfare Benefits Administration didn't reduce current levels of paperwork, but it did pull back from imposing a new burden that it had suggested two years ago. Its original “benefits claim procedures” rule would have required companies to institute costly procedures for notification and rapid claims-handling for departing workers who thought they were being shortchanged on pensions. The procedures were comparable to rules set up for letting workers appeal denials of emergency health care claims. But few workers actually protest their pension calculations, and those who do have been able to get the cases resolved on a reasonably timely basis without expensive, immediate appeals. The final rule eliminated the unnecessary pension procedures, while still allowing rapid handling of medical claims.

Even OSHA was preparing to issue final rules that would exempt small firms from reporting injuries and illnesses, as well as simplify reporting for others.

The bottom line: Thanks to these “ponies,” you might not have to pony up as much to comply with regulations. Several of these favorable changes resulted directly from business people taking the time to explain and document how previous rules (or proposed versions of the final rule) would have an unnecessarily burdensome effect. Despite their stereotypes as uncaring, the bureaucrats — and political appointees — who issue every regulation can sometimes be persuaded that there is a better way of carrying out the task Congress has assigned them. At other times, the answer must lie in convincing Congress or the courts.