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Editor's Notebook

Patience

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to enhance consumer knowledge and create greater value for you and the products you sell. No, our position hasn’t changed one iota. The problem is there is nothing really to write about.

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While there have been numerous published stories about the concept, in truth, there’s been nothing tangible to report. Plenty of opinion and ideas and conjecture. Loads of misinformation. But there are no real facts.

"Well, you’re a reporter. Dig things up," Tom suggested.

Sure, but what is there to dig into? There is a proposal on the table, which really isn’t a proposal at all. Someone had to get the discussion rolling, and TIA laid out a basic concept to open a conversation with the RMA. Except we all treated it as a "proposal" and not as a "concept."

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The difference between the two is what knocked the train from the tracks.

Creating this program has been a larger undertaking than I think anyone envisioned. Numerous legal issues have arisen. Of greatest concern, recent U.S. Supreme Court and lower court rulings on freedom of speech issues have brought the propriety of Congressionally mandated checkoff programs into question.

As I write this column, a constitutional law expert at the University of Maryland is reviewing briefs prepared by legal eagles retained by TIA and RMA, who looked at potential constitutional barriers that might preclude a tire industry checkoff program. As you would expect, the two attorneys, examining the same set of facts, came to entirely different conclusions. Thus the need for impartial mediation.

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If the U of M expert says the constitutional hurdles are just too great, the whole train might well plunge into the abyss. Should he find that, with the right crafting, a checkoff program could survive scrutiny, then the concept could move to the actual "proposal" stage.

After reading reams of court decisions on this subject myself, there are no easy answers. But there never are.

Perhaps I’m a bit naive in believing that if you really, truly want to accomplish something, you can find a way. While those intimately involved in tire checkoff talks ask the rhetorical question, "Who wouldn’t get behind anything that would improve consumer knowledge and create greater value for tires and tire retailers?", I’m not convinced that all parties involved want to reach for this goal. At least via a checkoff program.

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Hampering matters is all the talk floating around about "taxes" and "government involvement" and other horrors. Fact is, checkoff program assessments are not taxes, they are not collected by the government and the government wouldn’t run any tire checkoff program. In fact, these checkoff programs must be approved by all the parties impacted.

Both TIA and RMA say a referendum vote must be held in order for any tire checkoff program to start. That means all tire dealers, retailers, manufacturers, marketers and importers will have a vote. And to keep things in check, renewal referendums will be held every few years.

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A few months ago, the Texas Tire Dealers Association voted against the "proposed" tire checkoff program. Any tire dealer has the right to be skeptical, offer opinions and voice concerns. But to vote against a "concept" when there is no plan, and purely on the basis of misunderstanding and conjecture, does nothing but harm the process.

Give TIA and RMA time to work out the details ®“ the real facts of the matter, the nuts and bolts on how the program will work ®“ and present their case and answer all your questions. Then, and only then, will it be fair for you to cast your vote.

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How you ultimately decide, if we even get to that point, is up to you. Until then, be patient, understand the facts, and have an open mind.

And when there are tangible facts to report, we’ll have them.

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