What are Main Street Memos?
Main Street Memos are periodic opinion columns from Main Street Alliance of Oregon. Reproduction of Main Street Memos by the media and others is encouraged, provided the author(s) and Main Street Alliance of Oregon are credited as the source.
Main Street Memo- May 20, 2012:
Wake Up and Smell the Coffee for Small Business
By Gloria McMurtry, Jim Houser, Mark Kellenbeck, Jose Gonzalez and Rhonda Ealy
As we celebrate National Small Business Week (May 20-26) this year, we’d like to encourage our state and federal leaders to wake up and smell the coffee in regards to the real needs of small businesses in Oregon.
Our organization, the Main Street Alliance of Oregon, is currently surveying hundreds of small business owners in mom-and-pop, brick-and-mortar businesses on “Main Streets” all across the state. And what we’re hearing is that there is a lot of anger on Main Street. But it’s not pointed in the direction you might expect.
When we ask local, independent business owners what they need to succeed, build their businesses, and create jobs, we don’t hear the tired talking points about cutting taxes and gutting regulations that big national business lobbies repeat over and over. Many more local small business owners say “more customers” is what they need to help get the economy back on track than say lower taxes or fewer rules. In fact, many state they’re proud to pay their taxes to support the schools, public safety, roads and other infrastructure necessary for business — and our communities — to succeed and prosper.
Where we hear the anger is when we ask Oregon small business owners about the taxes paid by big corporations. For, while these small businesses patriotically pay their fair share, they believe corporate America does not. Out of over 350 business owners we’ve surveyed so far, 8 of every 10 feel corporations are paying less than their fair share. And even more feel like we need to close corporate loopholes to increase revenues before making further budget cuts.
The Main Street Alliance, in partnership with Small Business Majority and the American Sustainable Business Council, recently commissioned a scientific national survey of 500 small businesses on the subject of taxes. In this survey, 90 percent of small businesses indicated they believe big corporations use loopholes to avoid taxes that small businesses have to pay. And, 75 percent said their small business is harmed when loopholes allow big corporations to avoid taxes.
Beyond this resentment towards corporations for not paying their fair share of taxes, the Oregon small business owners we’ve been talking with are also angry about a fundamentally tilted playing field that threatens the very existence of small business in America. They talk of the monopolistic market power advantages enjoyed by the large chains and “big box” stores and the threat posed by big internet sellers who skirt state sales taxes.
But where their anger really focuses is on the vast political power wielded by corporate America, at the expense of the “Main Streets” of our nation. Again, a full 8 out of 10 Oregon small business owners feels that the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, freeing corporations to spend unlimited sums of money in elections, is bad for small business. And three of every four of these small business owners would support a constitutional amendment declaring corporations are not people and money is not speech.
So we hope that, as we celebrate National Small Business Week this year, our elected officials wake up and smell the coffee.
Main Street USA is angry. Not angry about paying taxes. This is our responsibility as citizens and our means to contribute to the common good. But angry about the Wall Street giants that fly the American flag in front of their corporate headquarters but refuse to pay their fair share to support our nation – and perpetuate their competitive advantages by dominating our electoral system with out-of-control political spending.
Our legislators need to stand up for a level playing field for Main Street USA. They need to pass bills closing loopholes and making corporate America contribute its fair share. They need to address small business concerns about the trust-like powers of the large corporations. And they need to pass real campaign spending reforms – things like new disclosure rules, public financing of elections, and a constitutional amendment on Citizens United – to revive government that works for small businesses and our local communities, not corporate special interests.
Gloria McMurtry is the owner of Talking Drum Coffee House and Bookstore in Portland, Jim Houser is co-owner of Hawthorne Auto Clinic in Portland. Mark Kellenbeck is co-owner of Brain Joy, LLC in Medford. Jose Gonzalez is president of Tu Casa Realty and partner in Hispanicpros.com in Salem. Rhonda Ealy is owner of Strictly Organic Coffee in Bend. They are leaders in the Main Street Alliance of Oregon, a statewide coalition of small businesses.
Last week marked National Small Business Week, and the Main Street Alliance took the opportunity to tell corporate lobbyists that they don’t represent small businesses in key the issue debates happening here in Oregon and nationally.
The week kicked off with a blog post from MSA-Oregon coalition director, Dan Lombardi, highlighting one of the fights small business owners are engaged in down in Salem at the State Capitol. Oregon is working on creating a health insurance exchange that will help reduce the burden on small business owners who provide health insurance, or give opportunities to those who can’t afford it. In the post, published on Blue Oregon, Dan called out insurance industry lobbyist who are working to weaken the exchange (you can read the full post here):
“At every step in the process this session, legislators have ignored concerns [of small business owners], and have capitulated to the insurance industry lobby to develop an exchange that continues to allow big health insurance companies to drive up premiums year after year.”
Later in the week, 11 small business owners from Portland, Salem, and Bend attended a small business roundtable with Governor John Kitzhaber and his staff to discuss pending legislation, and how it will impact small business owners and our communities. Business owners shared stories about the rising costs of health insurance, the lack of small business capital, and the need for meaningful reforms to energy tax credits. The concerns were well recieived by the Governor’s office. At the end of the meeting, the small business owners in attendance delivered MSA-Oregon’s 2011 legislative agenda and asked the Governor to stand with small business this session, not corporate lobbyists.
To wrap up National Small Business Week activities, MSA-Oregon co-chairs Jim Houser and Mark Kellenbeck submitted Op-Eds on state level issues to the Oregonian, and one on national issues to the Hill. Both had similar themes, and asked the key question of the week:
“Small businesses have spoken for and been ignored for far too long, and it’s time we fight back and change that. We are asking Gov. Kitzhaber and the Legislature to listen to the true economic drivers of Oregon’s economy — small businesses. We do the majority of hiring in this state, and because of that, our voice should be heard louder than any corporate lobbyist in the state Capitol. To this point in the session, we have been ignored. With National Small Business Week, the question must be asked: Who stands with small business, and who stands against? We hope our elected officials do the right thing for Oregon and stand with small business.”
Full text of the Op-Eds can be found here:
- May 21, 2011 – The Oregonian Op-Ed – “Corporations don’t speak for small business”
- May 20, 2011 – The Hill – “Who speaks for small business? Not big corporate interests”