The National Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association (NLBMDA) sent to the Obama administration and Congress today the group's National Policy Agenda for 2009. NLBMDA backed efforts to help the housing industry recover, called for protection of innocent sellers from product liability lawsuits, and opposed a proposal to make union organizing easier.

"Our nation's economy is in a state of crisis," NLBMDA declare in the agenda's opening statement, an open letter to President Obama and the 111th Congress signed by association chairman Paul Hylbert Jr. and president/CEO Michael O'Brien. "...The housing industry, at its peak, contributed nearly 20% of our nation's gross domestic product and was responsible for two of every five jobs created during the last period of economic growth. As Congress and the Administration continue to focus on policies that will spur our recover, it is essential that the housing industry be at the forefront. There will be no recovery without a revitalized housing sector."

NLBMDA and several LBM companies--including the one Hylbert runs, ProBuild--have formally backed the recommendations of Fix Housing First, a coalition pressing several measures to jump-start the moribund housing industry. In its policy agenda, NLBMDA echoed those when it called upon Congress to give a tax credit worth up to 10% of the home price (as much as $22,000, depending on the area) for purchases of primary homes between April 2008 and December 2009. It also recommended giving buyers access to discounted 30-year fixed rate mortgage financing--Fix Housing First seeks rates of 2.99% through June 30 and 3.99% from July through December--and extending the net operating loss carry-back from two years to five years so that LBM operations can discount current losses against past profits.

Among the other areas NLBMDA covered in its 16-page document:

  • Green: NLBMDA urged Congress to support green building without imposing mandates that give preference to only one green rating system. NLBMDA didn't name any particular system, but its recommendation appears to reflect concerns by dealers about programs by many local, state and federal government programs that cite the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED rating system. LEED currently gives points only for wood that was certified by the Forest Stewardship Council and not by any other group--particularly the Sustainable Forestry Initative, which is more popular with timber companies.
  • Legal Reform: NLBMDA again spoke up for the Innocent Sellers Fairness Act, legislation that would protect sellers from liablity when they haven't been negligent in the design, manufacturer, sale or installation of a product. NLBMDA has championed this initiative for the past several years.
  • Health Care: The association supports market-driven health care reform that don't cause new and/or costly mandates on employers. It also supposed small businesses to pool together to buy insurance for their employees.
  • Unions: NLBMDA opposes the Employee Free Choice Act, a top priority of labor unions. The act--which President Obama supported when he was a senator--would make it possible for a union to begin representing a company's workers after the workers have checked off a card indicating their interest in seeing their happen. At present, most times the card-check action leads to a secret-ballot vote by employees; the Free Choice Act would eliminate the need for such a vote.
  • Taxes: The association backs an extension of the net operating loss (NOL) carry-back to five years from the current two "to allow building material dealers to discount current losses against past profits." It also supports full and permanent repeal of the estate tax, and upholding Last-In First-Out accounting practices.
  • Environmental Issues: "While we support the goals of the Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act and other major environmental programs, we believe that private property rights must be protected and balanced with environmental objectives," NLBMDA's statement says. It backs "cooperative efforts" between industry and government to ensure forests are healthy. It notes that restrictions on access to domestic lumber has made America increasingly reliant on imorts, and it backs federal forest management policies that maintains access to domestic wood.