Garrett talks hot topics over hot bagels
Photo by Lauren Scrudato/New Jersey Herald - Congressman Scott Garrett speaks with Montague Bagel Factory owner, Annamae Alabnese and husband Al during a meet and greet on May 21, 2012.
The Montague Bagel Shop was the backdrop Monday for an old-fashioned coffee klatsch and meet-and-greet with Congressman Scott Garrett, who came to pay homage to the entrepreneurship of small business owners in observance of National Small Business Week.
Other than the hot bagels, the hottest topics of conversation Monday were the state of the economy and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which several patrons referred to disparagingly as Obamacare.
During his visit, Garrett trumpeted his support for the JOBS Act (Jumpstart Our Business Startups), aimed at facilitating capital formation by making it easier for startups and small-scale businesses to go public. The legislation, which received bipartisan support, was signed into law in April by President Obama.
Amid the glad-handing and good cheer, the congressman also received an earful from several area residents, including the shop's owners, Al and Annamae Albanese, who lamented the challenges of trying to stay afloat amid a difficult economy.
Annamae Albanese said the burden of completing numerous forms and paperwork each time she hires a new employee is a huge encumbrance for a high-turnover business such as hers.
"I'm a micro-business," she said. "Do you have any idea what it's like for a mom-and-pop operation like ours when every few months, I have to fill out paperwork to prove the replacement I'm hiring for the girl who's leaving for college isn't a terrorist?"
Albanese also complained about the high cost of providing workers' compensation, which she said totaled $8,000 last year just for her and her husband without taking into account her other employees. Garrett suggested that she look into making use of E-Verify, which is an Internet-based system aimed at streamlining the identity verification required of new employees.
Dawn-Anne Fugger, the office manager for Jim Mahon's Moving & Trucking, in Branchville, said the
ongoing stagnation in the real estate market had taken a toll on her company's business and that small operations like hers could ill afford the additional costs of insurance.
"We've already had to put some guys on unemployment," she said. "This is just something we can't afford. It would be absolutely detrimental."
Alicia Batko, of Montague, said the healthcare legislation would drive into retirement existing physicians who were unwilling to abide by the paperwork and other requirements of the new law. But more than that, she said, it would be a disincentive to others to go into medicine when weighed against the costs of medical school and the years of training required to become a physician.
"I don't think people fully understand the ramifications," she said.
Batko further questioned if there would be enough physicians to handle the increased number of people insured under the federal program and suggested something akin to a "Peace Corps of Medicine," involving loan forgiveness and incentives for doctors to practice in underserved urban and rural areas, which she said would be needed to offset the reduced supply of physicians.
Throughout the exchange, Garrett did more listening than speaking. He noted that a challenge to the healthcare legislation was before the Supreme Court and that a decision was expected sometime in June. He suggested the court might narrow the legislation's scope but said any legislative attempt to roll back the law prior to the November election was bound to fail. He said such action might be possible if Republicans won the presidency and enough seats to capture a majority of the Senate.
"Then you can start peeling it back, but even then, it's not as easy as it seems," Garrett said.
Because Senate rules require 40 votes to break a filibuster, Garrett said it could take as many as 60 votes to undo any portion of the legislation.
Paul Brislin, a member of the Montague Township Committee, also bemoaned the number of homes in foreclosure — a point echoed by Toni Lou Martin, the township's treasurer.
Martin said it was next to impossible to obtain financing on a home without properly functioning heating, septic and water systems and that this was making it harder to move foreclosed homes. She said this was having a devastating impact on the tax base of Montague, where 70 percent of land is owned by nonprofit organizations and by the federal and state governments.
Fugger also lamented the lack of enforcement action against unscrupulous moving companies who, she said, were not properly licensed and insured and were unfairly stealing business from companies like hers that were playing by the rules.
"Last year we paid $48,000 for insurance," Fugger said. "We pay big bucks for that."
Other movers, she said, often provide estimates for hundreds of dollars less than what her company provides but find ways afterward of padding their bills. She said customers often do not realize this until it's too late. The same, she said, happens when customers are unable to receive compensation for belongings damaged by moving companies that they later find out are uninsured. Even when caught, Fugger said, many unscrupulous operators simply close and reopen under a different name or in a different state.
Just about everyone Monday said they appreciated the time Garrett spent with them.
"It was very informative," said Fugger. "I'm glad he came out."
Still, Annamae Albanese said afterward that she had no great expectations about the impact, if any, it would have on business in the nation's capital.
"It was nice to voice my concerns, and it's nice to hear he'll take my concerns to Washington," Albanese said. "But do I expect it to go anywhere? Honestly, no, I don't."