Jul 21 2012
08:38 am

My bad, I suggested KNS cut the column to a letter with ill intent (a commenter on KNS said "good letter" which confused me, since I read online). My apologies.

For those interested- the full text of what I submitted is below. The boldface text is the missing part, which I thought was a critical argument. However it was 1000 words, over the columns 700-word hard limit.

Again, my deepest apologies that I did not see via online web version that it WAS a column, not a letter. I owe somebody lunch or a few beers.

Every day in the office, as I return from lunch, my ritual is to go through the day’s incoming mail. Last week, I got a pleasant surprise- a check from our insurance company based on the Medical Loss Ratio (MLR), as dictated in the Affordable Care Act, also known inaccurately as “ObamaCare.” Simply put, it is a refund of overpayment of premiums for our health plan. Based on the company / employee share, we get to split the refund or use it to reduce premiums for this year. The Affordable Care Act also coincided with annual health insurance rate hikes dropping from 15% to 25% per year to far more reasonable inflationary increases. This has, so far, been nothing but good news for my small company. However, some in Congress want to “help small business” by repealing the Act.

As one of the many venerated and worshipped small business owners (aka “Job Creators”), I see many members of Congress keep using me to bolster their respective arguments. How accurate are their claims?

Obamacare? First, I’d have to say it is an inaccurate term. It should be called “Congresscare”, since it was Congress who wrote the bill. The final bill has little resemblance to Obama’s vision for health care reform. But I digress. Like roughly 90% of small businesses in the US, our company is less than 50 employees and thus exempt from the requirements of the Affordable Care Act, a fact that seems to elude many people. Since our company hires highly educated professionals and must remain competitive in our hiring, we already offer health care, and the Act will eventually give us additional options for shopping for plans through the state exchanges. We are looking forward to the exchanges opening in 2014) and increasing competition.

Tax policy seems to be another issue that causes politicians to wave the flag for small business owners. The most common argument is the issue of tax rates for those earning (e.g., final profits, not gross revenues) over $250,000 or even $500,000 a year, with the argument that higher tax rates “kills jobs.” As a small business owner, this argument is flawed in an obvious way: The salary I pay when I create a job is a deductible expense. Lowering tax rates provides an incentive for me NOT to create a job and hire a new employee, since it means I will be able to personally keep more of the profits. If you raised my incremental tax rate to, say, 80% instead, then there’s a very strong incentive for me to hire employees and deduct their salaries from my highly-taxed profits, since I would be able to keep less of those profits. The logic coming from most members of Congress is completely backwards.

What creates jobs? I hire based on the demand for my products and services, not tax rates. If you want to create jobs, put money in the hands of consumers, primarily the middle class. If someone in the top 1% makes a 1000 times the salary of the average worker, do they buy 1000 cars? Do they buy 1000 houses? Do they consume $300,000 a month in groceries? No. Wealth polarization is actually contradictory to the goal of job creation, so tax policy that increases polarization is the true ‘job killer.’

Want to create more jobs here in the U.S.? Increase the tax breaks for those who hire here in the U.S., and remove the historical salary caps from such incentives, so high-tech jobs are equally encouraged by the tax credits. Penalize companies that ship jobs overseas. Change state, local, and federal procurement policies to encourage purchases from local and US-based companies. Several of the states I work with already offer local companies a slight preference in bid evaluations. Why shouldn’t we do this nationally?

Regulation are another common political punching bag. Do regulations kills jobs and harm small business? Perhaps, but some regulations also create jobs. Who performs the inspections? Who provides the tools for safety or environmental compliance? Many companies are built based on this type of work, and East Tennessee is the home to many of them. In fact, environmental cleanups and air pollution control technologies are one of the sectors where the U.S. excels, and provides a strong opportunity for exports. This expertise was built here in the U.S. in response to the Clean Air Act and the USEPA.

If I could point to one regulation that actually harmed my business, it was the brain-dead Tennessee Lawful Employment act passed by the Tennessee Legislature last year that requires me to use the E-Verify system to make sure that none of my employees are illegal immigrants. Never mind that I have worked with most of them for 20 years. No, the state decided that I needed to spend about 20 hours figuring out how to use an obtuse web site, simply because a few state legislators wanted to bash immigrants for political points.

I brought up the issue of this tedious regulation with my new state senator, Becky Massey, who said one of her priorities would be to reduce regulations affecting small businesses. I expressed how this burden, multiplied by the number of small businesses in Tennessee, probably cost 300 jobs statewide. I let her know I was happy to travel to Nashville to testify on hearings she wanted to hold on reducing burdensome regulations on small business. However, I have yet to hear back from her on this issue. I’m sure the Legislature has other ideas of what constitutes burdensome regulation, but if they refuse to listen to actual small business owners, it would appear to be nothing but crony capitalism or political hyperbole.

So, the next time a state legislator or member of Congress waxes poetically about how they are doing this or that for small business- ask them when the last time they actually spoke to a real small business owner they didn’t know through political connections – or political contributions. Odds are they have no clue how their legislative proposal will truly affect the real small business owner that doesn’t routinely lobby legislative bodies for favors.

Steve Drevik is the President and owner of Agilaire, which provides systems for air quality monitoring throughout the US and overseas. Since its start in 2006, it has grown from 4 employees to 9 permanent employees with health and dental benefits.

Barker's picture



As you know, I edited your column. First and foremost, I want to thank you for submitting it. I enjoy publishing columns from people who have intelligent, well-reasoned opinions. However, it was too long for the space we had, so I had to make choices. That's what editors do and people who submit pieces to us should understand that.

I thought it would be better to keep your main argument -- about the Affordable Care Act and its effect on job creation -- than to keep your secondary argument -- that E-verify and other regulations harm businesses. It was one or the other. Because you led with the Affordable Care Act stuff, I thought that was the most important part of the column and didn't want to gut that portion of the piece. I couldn't care less which legislator you talked to and have no problem running columns that are critical of Massey. You're welcome to submit another column about E-verify or other regulations if you like (though I must tell you that our policy is to have a 90-day waiting period between unsolicited guest columns).

Anyway, I appreciate your submitting the column and think it adds a perspective that has been somewhat overlooked during the debate over health care reform.

Barker's picture


Also, we ran it as a Citizen's Voice column, which has the most prominent space in the print version of the editorial page on Saturdays. It was not cut down to a letter to the editor.

Pam Strickland's picture

FYI, isn't the column length

FYI, isn't the column length 600 words? In that case, if you don't want something cut, you have to submit it at length to make sure everything you want included is kept.

jmcnair's picture

Nice opinion piece. So now

Nice opinion piece. So now rework and resubmit the regulation/e-verify section for another day.

reform4's picture

I thought it was an important point,

because "cutting regulations" comes right after "tax cuts" when waving the small business banner. I thought a very local example was an important adjunct to the national policy discussion, that it cemented the article and makes it appear as other than a "pro-Obamacare" letter. And that section provided a VERY concrete example to reinforce the final conclusion- that politicians will say one thing about helping small business, but do quite the opposite, because small businesses almost never have the ear of legislators. To me, the omission significantly gutted the piece.

I usually submit letters and articles with a disclaimer that basically says "print this in its entirety or not at all," (after having this done to me repeatedly), but I forgot this time. Although it still ended up a decent letter, I feel like it lost 70% of what it should have been (and you can edit up any letter/column to make the submitter look like an idiot, by the way, I've seen it done in other venues...).

Thanks again for the opportunity to get some of the points out, though- I hope you can see how I felt that the regulations argument tied into the final conclusion. With the edit, things don't necessarily follow or have the 'foundation' laid up to properly convince the reader of the argument (in this case, the disingeniousness of legislators).

reform4's picture

And on th E-Verify thing...

.. I would love to get the legislators to sit down and try to use the web site. If you have 100 employees, fine, you have some economy of scale. But for me to take 4 to 8 hours away from my small business (and every small business in Tennesse, hence the equivalent of 300 jobs estimate) because some wingnuts in Nashville want to use immigrants as a punching bag, well- that makes me see red when a TN legislator tells me they want to "help small business."

I could go on about other 'business building' fiascoes coming out of Nashville- say, the Legislature refusing additional unemployment funds from Washington (because it was Obama's idea), causing my state unemployment payments to spike 30% in one year. That was another brain-dead move hurting small business, thanks to small-minded wingnuts again.

Barker's picture


Oh, I thought you made a good point about E-verify. But you submitted more than 1,000 words and we only had space for about 700. I had to choose something to cut. Sometimes good scenes wind up on the cutting room floor. And, as I said previously, feel free to submit the E-verify portion later as another column.

I feel I must repeat that we published this as a column, not a letter, and it has the most prominent space on the editorial page today.

And I'm sorry, but sending in a disclaimer that a piece must be published in its entirety or not at all is a pretty sure way of keeping it from being published at all, especially if it's too long for the space. We edit everything. My stuff gets edited. Jack McElroy's stuff gets edited. Your stuff gets edited.

GDrinnen2's picture

I love reading thoughtful,

I love reading thoughtful, reasoned opinions from multiple angles of any argument. For what its worth, as a persuasion piece, i thought it was stronger without the e-verify stuff.

I do think you've got two well-written columns as separate pieces.

R. Neal's picture

Great column. I have to say I

Great column. I have to say I almost couldn't find it because I was looking everywhere except the spot where KNS editorials are usually found. So it is prominently featured.

P.S. For future reference, I was able to negotiate with S. Barker on a column one time. Actually it was more of a one-sided negotiation in which I kept submitting drafts until it was hacked down to an acceptable length.

Barker's picture


Yeah, Bubba, I almost got fired for publishing your drivel.

Writers always are at the mercy of their editors. Shoot, I became an editor because I wanted all the power that comes with the job. Imposing your will on hapless writers is a power trip that can't be rivaled. And the pay is better too.*

*For the humorless out there, I'm kidding.

reform4's picture

I empathize.

I didn't realize I was so far over the limit or I would have helped cut it down. It's not easy and often impossible to cut 30%, I know. I must learn the art of brevity.

Thanks again. Removing foot from mouth now. I owe you lunch or a few beers for that screwup of mine.... sigh...

Calypso's picture

"Thanks again. Removing foot

"Thanks again. Removing foot from mouth now."

You do this a lot. Over reach much?

reform4's picture

Happy to admit it and apologize when I do.

That's what separates me from the wing nuts.

Being confused by a two commenters that say "nice letter" doesn't undermine the article itself, if that's what you are trying to get at.

Calypso's picture

"Happy to admit it and

"Happy to admit it and apologize when I do."

You didn't apologize at the KNS. Hop over there and make it right.

reform4's picture

Scott's here...

... do I need to apologize to the KNS trolls? It's like wading waist-deep through a septic tank over there.

Besides, what I need to apologize for is posted here, not there. (I know, logical thinking, not good for people who live by non sequiturs).

Calypso's picture

It's a credibility thing

What you wrote wasn't true.

"reform4 writes:

The editors sliced the hell out of what was supposed to be a full length column, but apparently the same organization that shut down comments on the Massey fundraiser didn't like me pointing out that she said one thing and did quite another to me. The FULL TEXT CAN BE SEEN HERE:


That is, until they edit this comment. Or shut down comments."

reform4's picture

Yes they don't allow comments to be edited, unfortunately.

That would be a nice feature.

reform4's picture

Oh yeah

And I should have have added that I'll go over to Knoxnews and make it right as soon as the troll and bloggers apologize to me and Madeline Rogero over the "rain tax" lies. I won't hold my breath.

R. Neal's picture

Beat it.

Beat it.

reform4's picture

To Scott's Credit,

He just got it about 11 am Friday. He was excited about getting it in, so there wasn't time for a back and forth. He probably guessed (correctly) I would have done the same thing. Cunning fellow! :)

When he decided to print it so quickly as a cOlumn, I had hoped maybe it was so intelligent that he decided to bump Greg Johnson's column with it. No such luck. :)

Pam Strickland's picture

If he got it Friday morning

If he got it Friday morning and printed it today, then, yep there wasn't much time at all for back and forth. And you are lucky you got 700 to see publication.

And writing tight is the secret. I still prefer 1,000 to 1,200 words for a good column, but am on a strict 600 word limit. And I swear I turned in that many this week and Barker still cut a good sentence or so before it was published. I've been meaning to talk to him about that...

fischbobber's picture

Wen you get right down to it.

You've got three hundred plus cut words just waiting for an extra couple hundred to make another great column. Perhaps you could suggest this.

reform4's picture

Part 2

Will do. I would feel kinda bad putting that forth after my "good letter" misstep, though.

Barker's picture


Steve, you don't owe me a thing. I was doing my job. By all means, re-submit the e-verify section. It could probably be a letter to the editor as-is. By the way, online we designate columns in the headline by using the author's name, followed by a colon, followed by the actual headline. Letters are designated by using the term "Letter" followed by a colon, followed by a headline.

Usually, you have to get a column to me a few days earlier, but this week was a little unusual. I like to use guest columns (as opposed to staff or syndicated columns) on Saturdays. We don't run an editorial on Saturdays, so a guest column is used as a "Citizen's Voice" in its place. These can run about 700 words. We run two other columns that can be 600-650 words. I am at the mercy of those who submit columns to us. This week, I only had two submissions, which meant I would have to run a syndicated column. Then Steve sent in his column. I knew it was long but figured I could edit it down. Usually I am more surgical -- a word here, a sentence there -- but in this case I was able to remove an entire section and it fit rather well (and, in my opinion, made the column more focused).

Pam, a precise word count varies. Sometimes when we put it on the page it's a line or two too long. Sometimes it's a line or two too short.

reform4's picture

Thanks! The guidelines are very helpful.

For a letter, is there a 'max'? Probably 300 words?

I think it's great that you went the extra mile to get a local column in over a syndicated one. I think that's exactly what gives life to a local paper!

Barker's picture


The max on a letter is 300 words.

A word on our waiting periods. If we publish a guest column, we generally have a 90-wating period before we will publish another column by the same writer. The waiting period for letters is 30 days. We have to do this because there are some who would otherwise write a letter a day or a couple of columns a week, and we want as many different voices as possible in the paper.

reform4's picture

That's just as well...

.. I would feel like the guy that beat his wife one night, and the next morning asked her to make him a nice breakfast with Eggs Benedict. And it gives me time to learn how to edit better.

Barker's picture

I wouldn't

Well, I wouldn't compare it to spousal abuse. One of the reasons I post here is to explain what we do to engaged and interested citizens. Passions run high. That's OK. I'm glad you understand the process; other contributors haven't been so reasonable.

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