The Novice CPA's Guide to Legislative Action
by Shaune Scutellaro, CPA, CohnReznick LLP –
March 16, 2018
If you had told me two years ago that I would be writing this article, I might have said that you were crazy. At that time, the closest I had ever come to being involved in legislative issues was meeting then New Jersey Governor Jim Florio with my soccer team at the age of seven. However, after a few meetings with an entrepreneurs group and an idea about how I could make a difference, I started on a crash course for beginners in advocacy. The key takeaway I can impart is, if you can find a position that you understand and can get behind, there are likely several ways to get involved in government and pursue your interest in making a difference.
Do Your Homework
Along my journey to advocacy, there were many lessons learned. First, in order to add something productive to the legislative process, it is vital to know and understand the subject matter in great detail. As such, doing your homework is the first step towards making a difference. For example, my work with New Jersey’s life sciences and technology community led me to an entrepreneurs group developing a white paper advocating for ways to improve the community. I was able to lend my expertise in tax matters to the group and draft a section of the paper. As a CPA specializing in tax for close to 15 years, the impact of a potential tax change was a very familiar subject area to me and one that I could delve into deeply.
Understand the Impact
My next lesson learned was that the process was not as simple as getting my thoughts on paper and driving them down to Trenton. First, I had to understand the impact of the potential bill and determine federal and state treatment throughout the U.S. to get an idea of current law on the subject. Second, NJCPA gathered a panel of experts to thoroughly review the idea and develop an understanding of the potential impact of the law change.
Next, it was time to gather support for the potential bill. In addition to reaching out to New Jersey industry groups and trade organizations that might also back the bill, support in Trenton via state senators and assembly members who would sponsor the bill was necessary to keep the process moving. Finding common ground on both sides of the aisle seems harder than ever these days; however, my experience in this endeavor has been that good ideas still have the power to bring people together. Once a sponsor is found, then the bill is drafted, reviewed and put forth for a potential vote.
If making a difference on your own sounds impossible, I would agree with you. I was not able to get involved in the governing process without the help of several other people. Most importantly, the NJCPA’s government relations director, Jeff Kaszerman, brought me along as a neophyte and introduced me to the process of taking an idea to Trenton and making it a reality. Even though I had no prior experience in the legislative process, I am looking forward to the ultimate resolution of my proposed idea, and, hopefully, finding the next big idea that can make an impact for New Jersey business owners, investors and the accounting community here in the state.
Shaune Scutellaro, CPA, is a partner with CohnReznick LLP. He is an NJCPA Trustee, a past leader of the NJCPA Federal Taxation Interest Group and a member of the Content Advisory Board. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article appeared in the March/April 2018 issue of New Jersey CPA magazine. Read the full issue.