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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.