ProBuild CEO Paul Hylbert urged fellow building material dealers and manufacturers today to step up their lobbying efforts in Washington for tax relief, a housing rescue plan, and tort reform while fighting labor efforts to make union organizing easier.

"It is vitally important [to lobby], and it's just amazing that we can make a difference," Hylbert told more than 150 people in Las Vegas at ProSales' annual Excellence Awards breakfast.

Hylbert--who also is chairman of the National Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association (NLBMDA)--listed four key issues that dealers should advocate:

  • An extension of the net operating loss carry-back to five years from the current two to allow building material dealers to discount current losses against past profits.
  • Support for the principles espoused by Fix Housing First, a coalition pressing several measures to jump-start the moribund housing industry. Fix Housing First calls for 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 recommends 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 2009.
  • Opposition to 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. "Make no mistake, it has big traction [on Capitol Hill] and huge labor dollars behind it," Hylbert said.
  • Tort reform in general and the Innocent Sellers Fairness Act in particular. Innocent Sellers legislation would protect sellers from liablity when they haven't been negligent in the design, manufacturer, sale or installation of a product.

Hylbert echoed the extended litany of reports showing how America's housing industry is in its worst shape in decades. There are far fewer homes being built than a few years ago, fewer builders, fewer dealers, and fewer manufacturers, he said. And as for lumber producers, "It looks like all of Eastern Canada seems to be shutting down," he said, at prices so low that mills "are sending out dollar bills with each load of lumber." But Hylbert added that he supports the view of Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies, which has concluded there's demand in this country for roughly 1.7 million new home starts each year for many years to come.

"The future is bright--that's clear," Hylbert said. "And regardless of where that futgure goes, it's important for us to figure out how to get there."