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    Just a Lot of Sound and Fury

    Despite differing positions, none of the presidential candidates likely to be a friend to convenience and petroleum retailing industry

    By Don Longo, Editor-in-Chief

    With the contest for the Republican presidential nomination decided, and the Democrats racing to what could be a historically divisive nominating convention, I wonder if all the debates, sound-bites, attack commercials, exit polls and the millions of dollars spent will result in anything good for the c-store industry.

    "It is a tale -- full of sound and fury; signifying nothing." This quote from Macbeth aptly describes what has been the longest and most unusual presidential nomination race in a lifetime. And, we're just getting warmed up for the main event: McCain vs. either Obama or Hillary.

    Hillary Clinton appeared out of it until she pulled out all the stops to win the Ohio and Texas primaries earlier this month. Most likely our next president will be the candidate who can throw the stickiest mud -- that is, the one who can attack his or her opponents while avoiding a backlash from voters if the attack appears either too dirty or over-the-top unfair.

    But, when all the dust is cleared, and we are ready to inaugurate our 44th president, what's likely to change for c-stores?

    On the issues that matter most to convenience store retailers, none of the candidates look to be a boon. On tobacco regulation, for example, President Bush last year vetoed bipartisan legislation that would have increased federal tobacco taxes by 61 cents per pack to pay for a major expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). Neither a President McCain, President Obama nor President Clinton is expected to be as anti-tax as Bush and most retailers at Convenience Store News' recent Tobacco Roundtable (see story, page 47) are resigned to some kind of federal tobacco tax increase, if not this year, then next year for sure.

    On rising credit card transaction fees, I would expect the Democratic contenders to be more pro-regulatory, which might promise some help for c-store retailers. But, any financial relief on the credit card transaction front could be more than offset by the higher taxes that would be needed to support the Dems' health care proposals. Clinton, for example, would raise taxes back to the pre-Bush era to partly pay for her universal health care plan. Obama's plan is similar to Clinton's, but instead of mandating universal coverage, he would offer subsidies to make coverage affordable for all. McCain, meanwhile, says he is against requiring everyone to buy health insurance coverage and rejects the type of government-run systems found in Canada and Europe. No one seems to have a plan to reduce the impact of escalating health care costs on c-store retailers.

    An issue of great concern to family-owned businesses is the estate tax, which is set to disappear in 2010, but return in 2011 if the new president doesn't spearhead its permanent repeal. Both Clinton and Obama have voted no on repealing the death tax while McCain supports abolishing the tax, which would climb to more than 50 percent on estates worth as little as $1 million if no action is taken.

    On energy policy, again it's a matter of which candidate will do less harm to industry interests. Obama and Clinton are no friends of Big Oil and both voted against Bush's energy plan. McCain -- in typical maverick fashion -- also voted against Bush's energy plan, and appears less enamored with ethanol as a solution than the other candidates. He is more pro-nuclear power. All of them talk about making America more energy independent.

    Since there doesn't appear to be a pro-convenience and petroleum industry candidate out there, it becomes even more important now that all c-store retailers lobby and educate their elected representatives to protect their interests. Don't wait until November.

    For comments, please contact Don Longo, Editor-in-Chief, at (646) 654-7489 or [email protected].

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