Christmas may have come early for many contractors this year, with the $350 billion economic stimulus package recently signed by President George W. Bush.

Under the new law, contractors and other small-business owners will now be able to deduct up to $100,000 annually in work-related equipment and expenses, until 2006. The $100,000 cap is a huge number, especially compared to the old limit of $25,000.

If you have been eyeing a new pickup truck or sport-utility vehicle for your business, now may be the time to buy it. Several experts predict a rush to deal showrooms, since the new law allows small-business owners to write off the purchase price of most vehicles weighing more than 6,000 pounds (the weight the Internal Revenue Service uses to define a truck). Automakers continue to offer zero-percent financing, and as one analyst noted, since you could almost write-off a Humvee, this may be the time to upgrade part of your fleet.

Many groups in the sheet metal and HVAC industries, including the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling-Contractors Association and the Air Conditioning Contractors of America, were strong supporters of the legislation.

"It's a very important victory for our industry," said ACCA President Paul Stalknecht. "These provisions will help contractors purchase the vehicles and property they need to operate, while reducing their tax burden so they can continue to create jobs in their local communities."

While the ability to deduct SUVs or similar vehicles has received the bulk of attention in the media, that's not a company's only option. As the ACCA notes, computer software also qualifies. Consult with your tax advisor.

A little applause

On a wholly different topic, this issue marks SNIPS sixth anniversary under the auspices of Business News Publishing Co. BNP purchased SNIPS in 1997 from Nick Carter, whose family had owned the magazine since it was founded more than 70 years ago. I still hear from many longtime readers who ask how Nick or Bob Murphy, SNIPS former photographer and assistant editor, are doing and whether they're still involved with the magazine.

Many readers will be glad to know Nick is doing well. A loyal reader, he regularly offers critiques on our latest issue. He often sends in news items for our People or Regional News departments (Thanks, Nick!). Nick says Bob Murphy, or "Murph" to many readers, is also fine.

If I may speak on his behalf, Nick tells us he likes what we've done with the magazine during the last few years. We hope you agree. Putting together a monthly magazine is a team effort, and our publisher, Sally Fraser, art director Kathleen Brennan, production manager Karen Coppins, and editors Wayne Johnson and me work very hard to put it out each month. We try to present an informative and entertaining publication in an attractive format.

As editor, I'm always on the lookout for contributors and articles that I think will help our readers. We've recently started running some articles by Adams Hudson, a marketing expert whom I met at this year's ACCA annual convention in Palm Springs, Calif. Hudson deals exclusively with contractors, and those of you in the HVAC-service business may find his insights useful. Hudson does not hold anything back when he says most of the advertising air-conditioning contractors use is pitiful and ineffective.

Hopefully, some of Hudson's advice will help many of you make more money during this traditionally busy time of year.

Another new contributor you'll be seeing in coming months is Jim Olsztynski, editor of Supply House Times, a sister publication of SNIPS. Olsztynski is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in several trade publications.

I think you'll find Olsztynski's columns on common problems in the construction industry very insightful.