Dear Washington: Small business owners’ holiday wish list

December 21, 2012

Tis the holiday season, and all through the land, small businesses are stirring about what Washington has planned.

They’ve lobbied their leaders as the tax cliff looms near, in hopes that their rates will go down next year.

But taxes aren’t the only source of their dread, as visions of health care costs dance in their heads.

They want eased regulations, and immigration changes, too — i ndeed, there is much they hope Congress will do.

This week, we asked entrepreneurs and small business owners what policy makers in Washington could do to help their companies have a merry holiday season and a happy new year, beyond simply averting the year-end fiscal cliff. Here is their holiday wish list.

Betsy Burton, King’s English Bookshop in Salt Lake City, Utah:

“As a small business owner, I often depend on the same loan products as the average consumer — credit cards, small loans, etc. There is far too little transparency where financial transactions are concerned; I’d like to see Congress strongly support policies that create more transparency, clarity and disclosure regarding any and all such transactions. Reforming the system to protect small business owners like me, as well as the average consumers who are my customers, from predatory financial practices is incredibly important.”

Eric Blinderman, Mas in New York, New York:

“I hope Congress will make some real headway on tax reform—and capital gains taxes, in particular.  Why is it that someone who makes their living trading stocks gets to pay the capital gains rate on all the income they make, which is 15 percent?  If I invest my money in my restaurants, creating many jobs along the way, I have to pay full freight on that income. There should be more parity with respect to tax rates so that tax incentives apply equally to anyone who creates a job, regardless of whether they are a stock trader or a restaurant owner.”

Nancy Roesner, Copley Feed & Supply Company, Inc. in Copley, Ohio:

“Once again, things have been quite tight for us at my company. I have been unable to give my employees raises and had to give a small Christmas bonus again this year. Since we are being hit with higher taxes and heavier restrictions on products we can sell, we are losing customers. A small business can only pass on increases to a point before the customers just say that you are too high. I would hope that you would concentrate on reforming taxes on small businesses, as well as, pulling the reins back on EPA and their decisions on some of the products that they have taken off the market for us.”

ReShonda Young, Alpha Express Inc. in Waterloo, Iowa:

“We believe we can compete with anyone – even the biggest multi-national delivery companies – as long as we’ve got a level playing field. But the proliferation of tax avoidance by big multinational companies in recent years is a troubling trend that creates two sets of problems for us. First, this tax avoidance is robbing the country of the resources we need to maintain the physical infrastructure that our business relies on. Second, when multi-national companies use accounting tricks to shift profits off-shore and avoid paying taxes, it puts domestic businesses like mine that are paying our fair share at a direct competitive disadvantage.

I get frustrated when I hear talk about “revenue-neutral” corporate tax reform or the creation of a territorial tax system which would give corporate tax avoiders a permanent “get-out-of-taxes-free” card on profits they shift offshore. As Congress looks at corporate tax reform in the new year, it should seize the opportunity to marshal the resources we need to invest in our country, and to level the playing field for small businesses like mine by making sure our multi-national competitors pitch in their fair share.”

Wilson Cajamarca , Jilguero MultiService in Brooklyn, New York:

“As a small business owner, I must ask for comprehensive immigration reform. A path for citizenship for immigrants to our country will make our communities safer, happier and more prosperous. It would allow me and others to legally employee talented new arrivals to our country as well as to protect the purchasing power of our communities. In these tough economic times, small businesses need a hand. Comprehensive immigration reform will expand our customer base and drive the economy forward. As we continue our economic recovery, we must not bar those eager to work but rather join together to build a more prosperous future for all.”

Larry Nannis, Katz, Nannis + Solomon, PC in Needham, Massachusetts:

“I’m hoping for tax reform – period. As a CPA, I have always said that it would be much easier to help my clients grow their business, if all I had to tell them was to put the income on a line and multiply by a percentage. Tax reform that is permanent, transparent, predictable and fair is greatly needed. While I believe the Fair Tax is the best option, there must, at a minimum, be parity between C Corporations and pass-through firms like LLCs and S Corporations.

Regulations promulgated by the Internal Revenue Service should be written in plain English so that a layman can have more information about the implications of the tax code without having to constantly turn to CPAs or tax attorneys. All of these things would affect my business because there would be less tax planning and interpreting needed, however, it would allow me to focus solely on growth planning. Tax planning for my clients this year has been a nightmare. I had to tell a small business client that on April 15, 2013, he will either owe $16,000 of taxes or get a $20,000 refund, depending on whether the R&D credit is retroactively extended as it has been in the past. How does a business plan their cash flow with a nearly $ $40,000 swing in taxes?”

David Borris, Hel’s Kitchen Catering in Northbrook, Illinois:

“Since the onset of the financial crisis in 2008, small businesses have faced a double squeeze: on the one hand, customer demand vanished into thin air, while at the same time access to credit dried up for many small businesses. The explosion of high-frequency trading and the growing emphasis on proprietary trading on Wall Street have resulted in a declining focus on traditional, long-term investment. That’s bad news for small business lending.

Enacting a financial transactions tax, like the one proposed by Senator Tom Harkin and Representative Peter DeFazio, would help small businesses on both sides of this equation. By raising serious revenue – $350 billion over 10 years – a financial transaction tax will help move us away from austerity economics that depress consumer demand. On the other side of the equation, a financial transactions tax is a way to promote productive long-term investment by raising the cost of speculative activities, while barely touching traditional investors and small businesses.”

Don Curtis, The Forestry Company in Perry, Florida:

“Dear Santa, please give me a phone number that my employees can call to enroll in Obamacare. Since I have fewer than 50 employees, I will quit providing health insurance at the end of 2013. Our premiums have increased about 40 percent since the law was passed - I shudder to think how much it could cost in the future. And on regulations: I didn’t go to the University of Georgia and earn a degree in forestry, only to become a government compliance officer. The regulations coming at our industry from the state and federal government are really frustrating and time consuming. Just make 2013 free of any new regulations. I’ve been a really good boy this year, so how about repealing a few regulations – perhaps as a stocking stuffer?”

Zachary Davis, Penny Ice Creamery in Santa Cruz, California:

“We just started providing health insurance to our employees, so I’m looking forward to full implementation of the new healthcare law. Specifically, I’m really looking forward to the exchanges. I wish we could have done this whole process through the exchange because it was incredibly difficult to understand. If we hadn't had our broker we couldn't have done it at all. Of course, I haven't seen what the exchange is going to look like but the idea that it will be navigable to a layperson—that's really appealing. I'm really hopeful that costs of providing this coverage will come down, as well, because of the law.”

Brenda James, Earl F. Mathews Inc. in Athens, Ohio:

“I am tired of working overtime and what I would really like for Christmas is a new employee. I think I can afford one, but I am just not sure – how much will my income, payroll, and capital gains taxes be next year? I would appreciate knowing what I am going to owe for my share of my employees’ Medicare and Social Security taxes, too. If you could just get your work done so that I could calculate what I am going to owe for myself and the people that work for me, that would be a great start to the Holiday Season.

Oh, and how about getting a grip on healthcare reform and start by backing up the deadlines that you know the state and federal governments won’t meet and taking the time to design something that is user friendly and customer-oriented? I’m not sure how much all this reform will affect my income and my health care costs, so if you could figure out that out, it would really help me plan my budget for the next year or two. My agency makes very little profit from selling health insurance, but people’s jobs depend on that income. Will that still be there after health reform takes effect? How will I pay their salaries if it isn’t?”

Mike Mitternight, Factory Service Agency, Inc. in New Orleans, Louisiana:

“My List is simple: Civility and fairness is all we ask. Be civil to one another, eliminate the partisan bickering and be fair in your dealings with each other and businesses. Eliminate unfair, useless and burdensome regulations which seem to have lost all common sense; understand that many of us didn’t want the federal health care plan to begin with, but now that it has been deemed legal, issue appropriate guidelines and directives that are timely, fair and understandable. And reform the tax system into something that promotes growth and does not penalize success or diminish ambition. Those would be my wishes at this time and, if granted, would make for a Merry Christmas.”

What does your small business need from policy makers this holiday season? Please share your own wishlist in the comments below.

Follow J.D. Harrison and On Small Business on Twitter.

J.D. Harrison covers startups, small business and entrepreneurship, with a focus on public policy, and he manages the Post's On Small Business blog.
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