A number of critical small business issues are at stake in next month's federal and state elections. Here are six of the most important.
1. Restructuring the Banking System
Nearly half of all small businesses have been unable to secure adequate financing, according to recent surveys. Even as the economy recovers, lending is unlikely to improve significantly because the problem is largely structural. Big banks, which increasingly dominate the banking system, do relatively little small business lending. Since 2007, the share of bank assets held by the largest 18 banks grew from 52 to 60 percent. Meanwhile, small and mid-sized banks, which provide most small business loans, have been losing ground. Over 900 of these banks have disappeared since 2007, casualties of the recession and government policy responses that have favored big banks.What to look for in Congressional candidates:
- Supports the SAFE Banking Act, which would cap the size of banks and force the largest banks to be split up.
- Supports depositing public funds with local banks. The state of Massachusetts, for example, has spurred 2,500 new small business loans in the last year by moving $278 million in public funds to local banks.
- Favors creating a public partnership bank similar to the Bank of North Dakota, which has expanded the lending capacity of local banks and thereby made credit more available for local businesses. Bills to create state partnership banks have been introduced in many states.
Each year large companies avail themselves of a variety of state and federal tax loopholes to escape paying billions of dollars in taxes. Evasion of federal taxes through offshore tax havens is only part of the problem. Loopholes in the tax codes of many states allow companies to transfer profits earned in-state to out-of-state subsidiaries, thereby escaping state corporate income taxes. Local businesses cannot take advantage of these loopholes.What to look for in Congressional candidates:
- Supports the CUT Loopholes Act, a bill sponsored by Senator Carl Levin that would sharply curtail the use of offshore tax havens and mandate that large companies pay their fair share.
- Favors adopting "combined reporting" (in states that have not already done so). This tax rule prevents companies from hiding in-state profits by transferring them to out-of-state subsidiaries.
In most states, brick-and-mortar retailers are required by law to charge their customers a sales tax of between 4 and 10 percent, while Amazon and other large internet retailers are not. For more than 15 years, local businesses have been clamoring for a level playing field. But lawmakers have largely ignored these calls. As the number of local retailers has fallen, Amazon, backed by this sizable tax advantage, has grown to be the 15th largest retailer in the country and now captures more than one-third of e-commerce orders. Bills to remove this unfair advantage have been introduced in Congress for several years running, but none have been brought to the floor for a vote.What to look for in Congressional candidates:
- Supports the Marketplace Fairness Act (or Marketplace Equity Act), which would allow states to extend the requirement to collect sales tax to large online retailers, and would push for its immediate passage.
- Favors enacting a state law, modeled on laws in New York and Illinois, that would extend the requirement to collect sales taxes to large online retailers, such as Amazon, that rely on in-state sales affiliates.
State and federal policies will continue to favor big corporations at the expense of independent businesses so long as corporate money continues to steer the political process. This election, thanks to the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, is shaping up to be the most expensive and least transparent in history, with tens of millions of dollars from anonymous donors being spent by super PACs to influence the outcomes of state and federal races.What to look for in Congressional candidates:
- Supports a Constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United.
- Supports the DISCLOSE Act, which would require disclosure of donors to PACs and other politically active nonprofit groups.
- Favors a public financing matching system that would encourage candidates to fund their campaigns through a broad base of small donors.
- Favors passing a resolution in support of a Constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. Nine states so far have passed such resolutions.
Merchants pay $50 billion a year in credit and debit card swipe fees. Many independent retailers pay more in credit card fees than they earn in profits. They have no leverage to negotiate with Visa and MasterCard, which have a near-monopoly on processing card transactions. Most industrialized countries have laws capping swipe fees at rates about one-sixth to one-quarter of those in the United States. A recent U.S. law (the Durbin Amendment) reduced the cost of some debit card transactions. It didn't regulate credit card swipe fees.What to look for in Congressional candidates:
- Supports capping credit card swipe fees and strengthening the Durbin rules on debit card fees.
6. Increasing the Small Business Share of Government Purchasing
Although the federal government has a goal of giving 23 percent of its contracts to small businesses, it has yet to meet that goal. Last year, 21.7 percent of contracting dollars went to small businesses. A White House report found that, even in industries where small businesses are well-represented, federal purchasing often skews in favor of large businesses. Many states also direct much of their purchasing to large national companies, bypassing local businesses that generate jobs and tax revenue within the state.What to look for in Congressional candidates:
- Supports more aggressive incentives for federal agencies to meet the small business procurement goal.
- Favors adopting a local business purchasing preference.