MARIETTA - The key to creating jobs is getting the federal government out of the way seemed to be the theme of a town hall meeting led by Sixth District U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Marietta, at Washington State Community College Wednesday evening.
"We're holding these sessions up and down the district, and everywhere we go jobs and the economy are what the people say are most important, so that's what we're focusing on," Johnson said.
About 18 people attended Wednesday's town hall meeting.
Photo by Sam Shawver
U.S. Congressman Bill Johnson, R-Marietta, discussed job creation during a town hall meeting Wednesday at Washington State Community College.
"It's a small crowd, but then many people are probably out looking for jobs," Johnson said.
He noted the national unemployment rate recently crept up slightly to 8.2 percent, according to government figures.
"But that's not the real rate, if we factor in the 8.5 million unemployed people who have given up looking for work, that rate is more like 14 percent," Johnson said.
He said one reason more jobs are not being created is that businesses can't get access to the capital they need to grow.
"Others say they're not hiring because of (President Barack Obama's) universal health care law," Johnson said. "Businesses can't afford it, and that's making it difficult for them to create jobs."
Health care costs are increasing, not decreasing due to the health care law, he said.
"And the president is cutting $500 billion out of Medicare to pay for his health care plan," Johnson said.
Damian Lang, owner of Lang Masonry Contractors in Waterford, agreed.
"We basically have three construction companies, and I have about 100 employees right now; that's down from more than 200 employees when we started," he said.
Lang said he invented a machine that helps put up block walls, and the company markets it internationally.
"But there's so much government regulation now-I have to hire secretaries just to handle the bureaucratic paperwork that's required just to keep the business running," he said. "If all of those regulations were in place when we started, I couldn't be in business today."
As an example, Lang said a new farm bill is under consideration in Congress that requires kids under 18 years of age must be paid minimum wage for any job they do, including odd jobs like painting fences or mowing lawns for neighbors.
He said the health care law will be a big problem for businesses.
"We need a better health care system, but anytime you give someone something without a good reason it will do them more harm than good," Lang said. "Health care costs are $625,000 for our companies this year. If the current trend continues in five years I estimate we'll be paying more than $1 million."
He said those costs will cause many companies to shut down.
"What things would you need in order to start hiring more people?" Glen Miller, local business owner and president of the Muskingum Valley Area Chamber of Commerce, asked Lang.
"I would say that the government needs to get out of the way and let us in the private sector do this," Lang said. "Stop all the regulations. And we should really be concerned about the health care bill."
He added that loosening regulations that prevent banks from lending to businesses also needs to take place.
"We need some kind of reform," he said. "When I started my business in 1963 I went to the bank and borrowed about $16,000. The only people I had to deal with then was the power company and the phone company."
Marietta resident Patty Halliburton asked Johnson if taxes were part of the problem.
"The national tax code is so complicated I'm in favor of completely terminating the code and starting over," Johnson said. "We need to implement a fair, flatter, and much simpler tax code that makes it easier on businesses."
Johnson said the national debt is approaching $16 trillion, and without jobs and a stable economy, future generations will be carrying an even heavier load.
"We have a spending problem the government just can't fix," he said. "Recently we heard President Obama say that the private sector in this country is doing fine. But the people I'm hearing from in the 6th District are saying just the opposite."