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Helping Restaurants Serve Up Jobs | Commentary

When it comes to the universality of food, the late Luciano Pavarotti perhaps put it best: “One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating.”

In other words, everybody — no matter who they are, or where they are from, or what they believe — eats. It’s the ultimate “common ground.”

In America, 130 million people do their eating at a million different restaurant locations every single day, which, of course, translates into an awful lot of business, entrepreneurship and employment.

The Restaurant and Retail Jobs and Growth Act (HR 765), which I’ve introduced over the past two Congresses with bipartisan support, recognizes the inherent economic horsepower behind these enterprises and makes it easier for them to expand and create more job opportunities for more Americans.

According to the National Restaurant Association, the restaurant industry already employees 14 million people nationwide — 10 percent of our nation’s entire workforce. This includes more than 557,000 men and women in my home state of Pennsylvania and 21,000 people in the district I’m honored to represent.

These are enormous figures, with enormous potential to grow even larger. Public policy makers should be staunchly on food service’s side. Unfortunately, our nation’s notoriously outdated tax code is not.

Under the current code, restaurants are forced to operate on a 39-year tax depreciation schedule, which means write-offs for the costs of critical improvements to their establishments have to reflect expected wear and tear accumulated over nearly two generations. In an industry where wear and tear occurs quickly and constantly, this is absurd.

Let’s face it: Any venue where a massive amount of food is delivered, unpacked, cooked, served and eaten on a daily basis is guaranteed to require frequent refurbishment in order to keep attracting business. With millions of Americans visiting restaurants every day, a timely depreciation schedule is crucial.

The chief financial officer of Eat’n Park Hospitality Group recently stated that “because of the wear and tear a public restaurant incurs, we will be out of business very quickly if we aren’t continually refreshing and reinvesting in our businesses. A 39-year depreciation schedule in the restaurant industry simply is not aligned with real world spending practices.”

Think about it: Which diner would you rather visit — the one with ripped seats, stained furniture and crumbling walls, or the one that looks clean, new and welcoming?

The answer is easy, and thus an onerously long depreciation schedule can spell the demise of an establishment — and the jobs it provides — regardless of the quality of its food. On the flip side, a write-off schedule that reliably reflects a restaurant’s needs and operations can help eateries better accommodate their customers and flourish.

That is why repeated congressional action has allowed restaurants to operate on a temporary 15-year depreciation schedule, which more closely matches economic reality but is still unpredictable and unstable. My bill would make the 15-year schedule permanent.

The National Restaurant Association believes that “making the 15-year depreciation provisions permanent provides restaurateurs with the predictability and additional cash flow needed to plan for future investments.” The Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association claims such tax certainty and new cash “will allow restaurant owners to reinvest in their businesses and workforce.”

The extra dollars in savings would also have a significant ripple effect beyond just restaurants, since the money would necessarily reach architectural design firms, construction companies, building material suppliers and other development-related services throughout the nation.

According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, every dollar spent in the construction industry generates an additional $2.39 in spending in the rest of the economy. In 2011 alone, restaurants spent more than $6 billion on new construction, which led to the creation of approximately 172,000 new jobs.

Especially as our economy continues to underperform, it is vital that proven job-creating engines such as restaurants have the certainty they need to invest, grow and put more Americans back to work. Granting long-term tax stability to our nation’s bistros, diners, pubs, taverns and drive-throughs will help their surrounding communities thrive and spawn surefire economic growth from coast to coast.

Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Pa., is a member of the Ways and Means Committee.

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