This past week, I spent hours gathering the presidential candidates' positions on small business issues. I did a lot of work but then hesitated to write a column. After all, most people have already made up their minds, and this election is so contentious that no matter what I say, I'm certain to offend some readers.
So I posted George W. Bush's and John Kerry's stands on small business issues (taxes, regulation, health care, access to capital, etcetera) on my Website-- www.PlanningShop.com/election. But the thought of ignoring the election altogether gnawed at me.
I travel all over America meeting with small business owners. This year, I've been to Ohio, Mississippi, Washington state, South Dakota, North Carolina. Everywhere I go, entrepreneurs have a lot in common, whether Republican, Democrat, or independent.
What do we care about?
- A strong economy so we'll have a chance to grow our businesses.
- Low interest rates so we can afford to borrow money to manage cash flow or finance growth.
- Reasonably-priced health care so we can provide it for our families and our employees.
- Lower gas prices so we don't spend a fortune just getting goods or people from one place to another.
- Good schools so our children have a future and our employees are competent.
- Safety, both in our neighborhoods and in our country.
- Fairness, so we can compete against both foreign companies and huge domestic corporations.
Yet, regardless of which party is in power, small business gets relatively little.
Take, for example, the tax bill just passed by Congress, supported by members of both parties, and which President Bush is expected to sign. This bill provides a whopping $137 billion dollars in tax breaks, almost all going to big corporations. One provision reduces $44 million in tariffs on IMPORTING ceiling fans from China. The main beneficiary is Home Depot. Ask any small hardware store owner--whose tax dollars help fund this legislation--how this benefits his business.
Now, compare this to the amounts for small business programs:
- Manufacturing Extension Partnership, providing assistance to small domestic manufacturers: $39 million
- Small Business Development Centers, providing assistance to entrepreneurs and returning $9 in tax dollars for every dollar spent: $89 million
- SBA microloan programs, helping the smallest companies: $1.9 million
- SBA 7a loan program, providing vital government guarantees for loans to small and medium-size businesses: $129 million
- Veteran's business development assistance: $2 million
What can we, as entrepreneurs, do to change this? Here's where you can start:
- Vote: Not just for President, but for Congress, Senate, Governor, state legislators, city council. You'll never have a voice if you don't vote.
- Vote for a balance of power: When both houses of Congress and the White House are controlled by one political party--either one--special interests get special treatment. The only way to check the influence of big lobbyists and big donors is to make sure at least one branch is controlled by a different party.
- Look beyond labels: I cringe whenever I hear a candidate described as "pro-business." That rarely means they're pro-my business. Instead, it usually means they vote for tax breaks for huge corporations. Be cautious when you hear that term.
- Insist that your trade association represent small business concerns: The only political lobbyist most small companies have is from their industry association. Yet those associations are often dominated by big corporations. Make sure your trade association speaks up for the little guy.
- Work to make big companies pay their fair share: I provide health insurance for my employees, but when an employee of a big corporation without health insurance goes to a local emergency room, I pay for that with my tax dollars. Why should I subsidize these miserly corporations?
- Insist on fiscal discipline: Every piece of legislation--whether a new program or a new tax cut--should be accompanied by a guaranteed source of financing. Each program with a clear tax source; each tax cut with a clear program reduction. Don't allow politicians to allege we'll "grow" our way out of debt. If we don't, we and our children pay for it.
Small business currently has no effective voice in Washington. If you want that to change, make your voice heard on November 2.
Rhonda Abrams has two new books in bookstores nationwide: Six-Week Start-Up and What Business Should I Start? She is the president of The Planning Shop, publisher of books and other tools for business planning. For Rhonda's free business-planning newsletter, register at www.PlanningShop.com.