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April 17. 2013 1:45AM

Another View: Forklifts are not Fords and should not be regulated like them

My son and I are second-and third generation owners of a metal fabrication business n Hudson. Thirty-seven years ago, I started on the shop floor while my dad ran the place. I've had to rely on my own common sense and that of my strategic partners and employees for us to get ahead. That's the way it is in the private sector.

Unfortunately, it seems common sense doesn't often prevail in our government. An example of government foolishness is playing out in Concord right now concerning Senate Bill 126. You may have heard of this bill. It's the one where some legislators want to start regulating equipment like lawn tractors, backhoes and bulldozers the same as an automobile. Why? I find it a bit confusing.

Apparently local automobile and equipment dealers are seeking greater protection from the national manufacturers whose well-known brands they benefit from greatly and whose contracts they have previously and willingly negotiated and signed.

Greater protection? Auto dealers seem to be doing pretty well with the state law that generally prohibits automobile manufacturers from selling directly into New Hampshire.

Think about that. You can shop at an Apple store at the mall, but you can't shop at a store managed by an auto manufacturer because the law prohibits it. Which of those two situations most sounds like an example of the 21st century economy we're trying to create here in New Hampshire?

The local dealers also seem to be doing pretty well with the dealer bills of rights found in separate statutes for auto dealers (RSA 357-C) and equipment dealers (RSA 347-A). There are few industries that enjoy greater protections than dealers currently do.

If you're like me, you look at government action through a simple lens: does this make sense? SB 126 would treat a forklift the same as a Ford, all for the purpose of greater dealer protection, on top of the significant protection and statutory bills of rights already in existence. Does that make sense?

I own a new Ford Escape. I like it. It looks great, gets good gas mileage and handles nicely. I take it to work or drive it to visit Mom. My business owns several forklifts that I like as well. They look grimy, most run on diesel, and though not as nimble as my Escape, they're awfully strong. While I'd never take a forklift to go shopping, and Mom would be horrified if I picked her up in one, I do appreciate the ability to carry several tons of steel products from one end of our shop floor to the other. Common sense tells me a forklift is not a Ford.

If passed, SB 126 would tell us they're the same, as least in the eyes of government. This creates questions for us equipment owners, whether it relates to farming, forestry, construction, yard and garden or businesses like mine. Do we need to get a title for our equipment? Should we get additional insurance? How does this affect our financing? Could my forklift be subject to emissions testing? How about annual inspections for your lawn tractor?

Business owners like me rely on certainty in the law, and this law would create great uncertainty of what could come next. Equally as important for us equipment consumers is the question of what additional costs and other unintended consequences will result from passing SB 126. If someone either from the government or who would benefit from SB 126 tells you there won't be any, I'd advise you to be skeptical.

I don't begrudge dealers; they're good people who give charitably and create jobs in our state. I wish my business could enjoy some of the legislative attention and protection that they enjoy, but that's unlikely to be the case. And that's OK because the private sector works and we work in the private sector. In that system, we've had good years, OK years and tough years. But I always feel like we have a square deal and a fair shot to succeed, and for me and my extended family of employees, that's all we ask for.

No matter what our government tries to say, common sense tells us that a forklift is not a Ford, and that regulating equipment as SB 126 does is bad for business in New Hampshire.

Jack Gilchrist is president of the Gilchrist Metal Fabricating Company in Hudson.

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