A self-identified plumber in Ohio, whom presidential hopeful John McCain singled out as a potential victim of the tax plan put forth by rival Sen. Barack Obama, is getting some unwanted attention about his plumber's license and professed intention to acquire the company he works for.

In less than 24 hours, Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher, a plumbing contractor in Holland, Ohio, near Toledo, has been transformed into "Joe the Plumber" by McCain, who mentioned him no fewer than 20 times during last night's debate with Obama at Hofstra University. At a rally a few days earlier, the 34-year-old Wurzelbacher, a McCain supporter, asked Obama about his plan to raise taxes on companies that earn more than $250,000 a year. At the time, he told Obama he was preparing to acquire his employer's company, Newell Plumbing & Heating. McCain used Wurzelbacher as an example of an entrepreneur who would be hurt by Obama's plan that, on a larger scale, McCain claims would also stunt job growth.

"Small businesses provide 16 million jobs in America, and Americans know that raising taxes on small business will kill those jobs at a time when we need to be creating more jobs in America," McCain proclaimed at a rally in Dowingstown, Pa., today.

There are some problems with McCain's anecdote, though. TheToledo Blade, the Chicago Tribune, and other newspapers today quote Wurzelbacher as stating that he does not have a plumber's license and has no concrete financial plan in place to acquire his employer's business, where he's worked for six years.

Wurzelbacher told the media that he works under the plumbing license of the company's owner, Al Newell, who does have a state plumber's license and a license with Toledo but not a county license. Wurzelbacher has also been quoted as saying that he believes he doesn't need an individual plumber's license because he only does residential construction work. He now claims that his discussions with Newell about the possibility of eventually purchasing the company occurred during his job interview. As it stands now, Wurzelbacher earns less than $250,000 and could, therefore, receive a tax break under Obama's plan.

TheBlade reports that, according to Ohio building regulations, Wurzelbacher must maintain his own license to do plumbing work. He is also not registered to operate as a plumber in Ohio, which means he's not a plumber, the newspaper contends. However, Vince Squillace, executive vice president of the HBA of Ohio in Columbus, suggests that Wurzelbacher might actually be licensed within the context of state and local building statutes and not know it.

Squillace told BUILDER this afternoon that contractor licensing laws in Ohio "are not that tough." Most plumbing contractors are registered with state and local agencies to do both commercial and residential work. And if Wurzelbacher were hired as a "laborer," then he would be allowed to install plumbing mechanicals and fixtures under the company's license as long has he's supervised by another company employee, Squillace explains.

So while Wurzelbacher may not have passed any tests that would certify his individual status as a registered and licensed plumber, Squillace believes that he is probably working legally.

John Caulfield is a senior editor at BUILDER magazine.

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