What small business owners should know about Obama’s new budget

President Obama spoke about the 2015 proposed budget that he sent to Congress Tuesday at Powell Elementary School in Northwest D.C. (The Associated Press)

President Obama’s new budget proposal calls for ten of billions in new spending and several revisions to the nation’s tax code, all of which could have a sizable impact on new and small businesses.

Considered more of a declaration of party priorities than a politically viable budget, the document nevertheless signals an important shift for the administration. After spending the past couple years trying to work across party lines to reign in spending and trim the national debt, the president is renewing his push to invest more money into programs he believes will kickstart a still sluggish economic recovery.

Key drivers of that recovery, Obama has said, are the nation’s millions of small businesses, which traditionally generate most of the country’s new jobs but have been held in check recently by weak consumer spending, new regulations and an increasingly complex tax system. In his new spending blueprint, Obama takes aim at some of those barriers to growth — but not every small company would necessarily benefit.

Here are some of the main changes start-ups and small business would see under the president’s budget.

More federal spending: Obama has asked Congress to authorize an additional $56 billion in stimulus spending beyond the $1.014 trillion House and Senate leaders settled on in a budget deal struck last year.


Obama’s budget proposal: Spending by agency

The White House would use some of that additional capital to expand certain early education programs and job-training initiatives. Obama has also called on Congress to spend an additional $302 billion over the next four years to repair deteriorating roads and finance new transit projects across the country.

Increased spending in those areas could provide new business opportunities for a number of small businesses, particularly those connected to the transportation and construction sectors (there’s also a $300 million line in the budget for new housing units for the homeless). Manufacturers would also likely benefit from increased investment in new high-tech manufacturing hubs included in the president’s proposal.

Meanwhile, more than a fifth of small firms currently have job openings they are struggling to fill, according to a recent survey by the National Federation of Independent Business. A job-training program for laid-off workers, like the one that would be expanded under the president’s blueprint, could help address that problem, as would additional funding authorized for programs designed to help more students afford college.

Lower tax rate for (some) companies: The administration says the president’s budget would not add to the national debt. So how does he want to pay for all that additional spending? Once again, Obama has set his crosshairs on tax breaks and loopholes that tend to benefit large businesses and high-income earners.

The budget would eliminate, for instance, loopholes that are commonly exploited by hedge funds and private equity groups, and it would seek to put an end to certain tax evasion tactics used by corporations that store profits overseas. Some of the money the government would save would go toward the president’s new spending plans, some would be used to pull back on the sequestration cuts, and some would be used to offset lowering the nation’s corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 28 percent.

While small business groups have long fought to close loopholes exploited by large companies, it is the second part of the president’s equation — lowering only the corporate rate — where many have a problem. That’s because most small businesses are structured as pass-through entities, so their owners pay the company’s taxes in the form at the individual rate, not the corporate rate.

As a result, some warn that lowering solely the corporate rate would put many small businesses at an even larger disadvantage to their larger counterparts, especially because some entrepreneurs may lose access to certain tax breaks without seeing any reduction in their base rate.

And while Congress isn’t likely to hammer out a massive overhaul this year, with attention already shifting to the looming midterm elections, the president’s plans could garner some added attention after House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) last week unveiled his own outline of legislation. There is some overlap in the two proposals, which could provide a starting point for more serious tax reform discussions.

Less money for the SBA: Obama’s budget calls for $710 million to run the Small Business Administration, much lower than his $810 million ask last year and down from the agency’s $919 million operating budget in 2012.

For the second year in a row, the administration explained the lower budget by pointing to improved economic conditions for commercial borrowers, which it expects to drive down default rates and lower the cost of the agency’s lending initiatives. Consequently, the budget provides only $47.5 million next year to subsidize the department’s loan programs, less than half the $112 million it proposed to cover the programs this year.

In addition, it would allow the agency to keep waiving fees for certain small-dollar loans, bring back a popular loan program known as 504 Refinancing, and authorize the department to support up to $4 billion (no change from last year) in financing for fast-growing companies through its Small Business Investment Company program. The SBA’s spending blueprint also includes $15 million to expand an entre­pre­neur­ship training program and $7 million to finance business mentorship courses for returning veterans.

More money for some consumers: Several polls of small business owners have shown that weak sales continue to put a damper on job creation. Citing those findings, some advocates have urged policymakers to think twice about cutting back on entitlement programs, which help keep money in the pockets of many low-income and elderly Americans, which can then be spent at local businesses.

In his budget, the president has pulled back on concessions he had previously offered to Republicans, which would have traded entitlement changes for their approval of new tax revenues and spending programs. Most notably, Obama has nixed his offer to adopt a less generous inflation measure, which would have reduced the rate at which payouts for programs like Social Security increase every year.

In addition, the president has proposed expanding the earned income tax credit for low-wage workers who do not have children. One of the government’s most effective tools for combatting poverty, the EITC is currently much more valuable to workers with children than for those without. The expansion would allow the latter group — roughly 13.5 individuals — to keep a larger chunk of their paychecks every month.

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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