A special 10 percent income surtax hit hard last October. Increased social security and unemployment taxes added about 5 percent to the company payroll. A fifth week of paid vacation added another 4.5 percent, and he still is unsure how to organize a government-decreed 39-hour workweek.
Add to that a 30 percent expense account tax in a Burgundy town famous for fine eating and increases in personal income taxes that will push up this year's bill by a fourth and you will understand why Jean-Claude Neyrat thinks the Socialist government is bad for his family's umbrella and parasol business.
"We have the impression that the people in parliament or in the government have never set foot in a business," Neyrat told a vistor to his modern factory here. "They have a lot of ideas, but they don't have their feet on the ground."
Neyrat, 39, a Gaullist, was talking about his own problems as the fourth generation of Neyrats to run the $10.9-million-a-year Neyrat Peyronie Co. in this region of celebrated wines and peasant heritage. But his complaints echoed those heard around France in the last eight months from businessmen upset at President Francois Mitterrand's program to "change life" by a Socialist economic program.
The program's long-term centerpiece, nationalization of eight major industries and 39 private banks, was stalled last month by a constitutional court. Since then, the law has been rewritten and passed again by the Socialist-dominated parliament, so the companies are still scheduled to come under government ownership in the coming weeks.
It is only after their management actually changes hands that the first overall effects of the Socialist government's economic policies will be widely felt in France, probably by the time Mitterrand is celebrating the first anniversary of his election May 10.
Prime Minister Pierre Mauroy has pledged that the nationalized establishments will be encouraged to continue operating according to a market economy, free of government interference. But Neyrat and many of his business colleagues fear the result will be new criteria for business decisions--employment rather than profit, for example--and that the French economy will come out a loser.
Neyrat recalled that two months ago a Finance Ministry official summoned him to Paris to suggest that he buy out a nearby company on the verge of bankruptcy, underlining a need to save the jobs involved. Neyrat saw the request as evidence of the featherbedding temptations facing a Socialist government running nationalized industries. Neyrat said he turned down the suggestion because he felt his family is extended enough with the company's present size.
Mitterrand's government, in the meantime, has pushed through parliament or decreed a series of short-term steps designed to increase employment and investment that, seen by businessmen, are harbingers of worse to come. Chief among these are government-financed hiring incentives, reduced work hours and consumption encouragement through increases in the minimum wage and social security and a record $17 billion budget deficit.
Mauroy has trouped tirelessly across France promoting these policies, accusing businessmen of dragging their feet on investment for political reasons despite France's debilitating 8.5 percent unemployment rate. From Neyrat's vantage point, however, things look different.
"The speeches are all right," he said, "but you can't produce anything with them."
Neyrat complained smilingly of the increased income taxes, wincing but admitting that he lives comfortably with his wife and three children. He said his personal fortune, most of which is tied up in exempt business investments, falls below the half-million-dollar threshold for payment of a new wealth tax. The added business taxes, however, have produced a 17 percent price increase for his products, endangering long-range competitiveness.
But exports are still rising and the biggest harm is psychological, he added, citing "artistic vagueness" in the government that he said leaves businessmen unsure of what to expect and thus unwilling to risk new investment.
"We're worried," he said. "Will we be able to invest? Will we be able to keep going the same way? For example, if the climate were better, I might think about hiring people, producing more. But I'd rather extend my delivery dates and limit my supply purchases, rather than risking hiring more people whom I won't be able to absorb. Then I would just have to keep them and . . . ."
Illustrating what he calls the "fuzz" in Paris, Neyrat pointed to last month's decree fixing the legal workweek at 39 hours instead of 40. The decree left unclear how the hour should be subtracted--whether the workers should get an hour's less salary, for example--leaving it to unions and business to decide.
"They tell us to negotiate with the employes, but how can we?" asked Neyrat. "We have no basis for negotiating with them . . . . Then we decide something with the workers, and they come along and tell us something different."
Neyrat's group had agreed with employes to continue a 40-hour workweek, thus allowing employes to "bank" the extra hour and take days off with the accrued time. But the Labor Ministry has not approved the accord yet, and it may have to be worked out again.
For Neyrat, with 210 nonunion employes and a family business, the wait is simply an irritation. But for larger companies with competing labor unions, the negotiations have touched off strikes and slowdowns.
Customs agents, for example, have been working to rule over a dispute involving attempts to reduce their uniform-changing time and other breaks in return for the 39-hour week. As a result, long lines have formed at border crossings into Spain and Italy, and shipping agents are having trouble getting shipments out of customs in Paris airports.
Elsewhere, workers protested because employers insisted on paying only a part of the lost 40th hour or because they already had a 39-hour week and wanted to drop to 38 to keep what they called "acquired advantages." In the government's schedule, the 38-hour week comes next year.