Local view: Cuts to ‘99 percent’ hurt small businesses

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From Washington, D.C., to Olympia, budget cuts seem to be the talk of the town. Following $10 billion of state budget cuts to education and health care since the recession began, last month Gov. Chris Gregoire previewed how damaging it would be to the state to continue the course of all-cuts budgeting.

Eliminate the Basic Health Plan. Lay off teachers and increase class sizes.

At the same time, on the other side of the country, news outlets leaked new proposals being considered by the super-secret Congressional supercommittee that would cut hundreds of billions of dollars from Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

In both cases, elected leaders have been too timid about demanding an end to tax breaks and preferential rates that benefit Wall Street banks, large corporations, and millionaire CEOs.

It’s no wonder that Occupy Wall Street and the 99 percent movement has sprung up around the country and at home here in Vancouver. “We are the 99 percent” is an anthem that strikes a chord far beyond those who march in the streets and occupy public spaces.

Under the radar, there is a growing split in the business community between corporate elites fighting to maintain their special-interest tax breaks, and small business owners who say it’s time for big business to share in the sacrifice to fix the economy.

For small business owners, it’s not about beating up on our big business competitors. And, though we care deeply about the communities in which we do business, our views are not derived simply from compassion for the most vulnerable.

Plainly put, small businesses will suffer if deficit reduction is achieved through further rounds of deep budget cuts to basic services that support middle-class and poor people.

Why? Because that’s our customer base, and what small businesses need the most right now is more customers.

Deeper cuts, on top of billions in cuts already enacted, will send a ripple effect through the economy, further crippling the small business customer base, not strengthening it.

If our customers are worried about finding a job and paying more for health care, education and basic necessities, they’re not shopping at a local small business.

Changes needed

It makes little sense to cut public support just when more people need it. More budget cuts will mean additional teachers and health professionals will lose their jobs. There will be fewer people to help respond to the needs of Washingtonians, and thousands spending less in their local communities. This is economic activity that small businesses can’t afford to lose.

More cuts would slow our economic recovery and leave our state poorly poised for prosperity’s return.

Whether it’s the task of the congressional deficit reduction supercommittee co-chaired by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash,), or the challenge facing state budget writers in a special legislative session this winter, the same analysis applies. If elected leaders are serious about creating jobs, supporting small businesses, and fixing the economy, the conversation needs to change.

Corporate America and the Wall Street banks that caused the economic collapse have had their opportunity to help fix the economy and create jobs voluntarily. Banks were bailed out, but small business lending remains anemic while millions face foreclosure.

Large corporations simply aren’t making significant investments or hiring new workers, even while posting all-time high profits, paying lower taxes than ever, and sitting on trillions of dollars in cash — the highest share of their balance sheets than at any time in nearly 50 years.

That’s why, as small business owners, we support approaches to deficit reduction and job creation that call on large corporations and the wealthy to contribute their fair share rather than further cuts to basic services that strengthen our economy by bolstering the middle class.

The fates of small businesses and our communities are inextricably linked. We are part of the 99 percent.

Let’s get to work fixing our economy.

Don Orange is owner of Hoesly ECO Auto & Tire in Vancouver and is chairman of the Main Street Alliance of Washington, a coalition of more than 2,000 small businesses.