The Department of Labor (DOL) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued some important rulings in 2004, and they could have an immediate effect on the bottom line for contractors. On June 25, IRS finalized a rule allowing contractors to write off greater amounts of money spent on service vans and light trucks.

The permanent change permits full expensing under Section 179 of the IRS tax code by exempting depreciation of vans and light trucks under Section 280F. To qualify for the extended depreciation, the vehicles must be modified to meet business needs, such as those outfitted with ladder racks or a company logo. Trucks and vans straight off the lot do not qualify.

In April, DOL issued its long-awaited and highly controversial revisions to the federal regulations defining who is, and who is not, exempt from overtime pay.

The DOL did not address the unique job requirements of service technicians in the industry. However, experts assert that it is highly unlikely, in most cases, that HVACR service techs will satisfy any of the exemptions under the new rules, even if they are paid more than $100,000 a year. In fact, the so-called "Fair Pay Rule" virtually guarantees overtime pay for all blue-collar workers.

The new Fair Pay Rule guarantees overtime pay for employees earning less than $445 per week (or $23,660 per year) and establishes a new exemption for employees performing nonmanual jobs who earn a salary of $100,000 or more a year.

In addition, under the current rules, simply paying an employee an annual salary (rather than an hourly wage) will not guarantee that the employee is exempt from overtime. The new rule requires the employer to analyze the employee's duties and responsibilities in order to determine whether one of the exemptions applies. The DOL established a new "Fair Pay" section on its Web site ( to help employers understand their obligations.

In federal legislation, the House designated April 18-24, 2004, as the first-ever National Indoor Comfort Week "to showcase the positive impact that the HVACR industry has on health, safety, and overall quality of life." The legislation was created in response to an effort spearheaded by ACCA.

While the association was thankful to get the concept off the ground this year, ACCA president and chief executive officer Paul Stalknecht noted that it is important to get local media exposure during the week and get a grassroots campaign going.

"It is not so much about getting the issue circulating in Washington, as it is about getting into Main Street America where contractors work and technicians reside," he said.

Sidebar: Will This Legislation Fare Better In 2005?

It was an election year, which prompted some interesting legislation. In March, four U.S. House members, led by Congressman Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., introduced H.R. 3953, the Cool and Efficient Buildings Act, to set the depreciation period at 15 years for "any property which is part of a heating, ventilation, air conditioning, or refrigeration system and which is installed on or in a building which is nonresidential real property."

Though Congress did not act on the legislation this year, Hoekstra believes the time has come. "The current 39-year depreciation periods on HVACR systems is not reflective of their average lifespan, and it is not cost effective," he said. "The Cool and Efficient Buildings Act will provide an incentive for businesses to invest in new equipment, which will save businesses money in the long term and provide another stimulus to the U.S. economy."

The legislation notes that the tax code change would decrease the nation's energy consumption by taking advantage "of the remarkable increase in energy efficiency due to the technological advances" achieved by the air conditioning industry.

William Sutton, president of the Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute, said the current depreciation period dates back to the 1950s and "is not cost effective."

"With only weeks left for this Congress, it is important to secure as many cosponsorships as possible so that when the Cool and Efficient Buildings Act is reintroduced in 2005, it will be a stronger candidate for legislative hearings and adoption by the newly elected House and Senate," he said.

Meanwhile, the asbestos compensation bill (S.2290, Fairness in Asbestos Injury Resolution Act of 2004) stalled in the U.S. Senate after negotiations between Republicans and Democrats broke down. The bill was designed to establish a trust fund, paid into by manufacturers and others involved in asbestos lawsuits, to compensate victims of asbestos exposure. The trust fund would replace the current legislation that is clogging U.S. courts.

The bill was introduced on April 7, after all the involved parties were unable to come to an agreement on a previous version of the legislation, introduced in 2003. It is uncertain what will happen with legislation in 2005.

Publication date: 12/27/2004