Small-business group backs tax hike

Effects of state cuts on customers hurting bottom lines

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Small-business owner Don Orange of Vancouver was in Olympia on Thursday, asking state lawmakers to stop cutting government programs and start raising revenue.

And if that means more taxes, so be it.

“Do we eagerly run to pay taxes? No,” said Orange, chairman of the Washington state chapter of a small-business advocacy group called Main Street Alliance. “Do we need the services that our taxes pay for? Absolutely.”

Orange runs Hoesly Eco Automotive, a repair and tire shop in downtown Vancouver, and said he gets customers who are deciding between repairing a dangerous vehicle and paying the rent.

“This constant chopping has really had an effect on working folks,” Orange said. “When people don’t have the money to fix their cars, it hurts us.”

By 3 p.m. Thursday, Orange and other small-business owners had met with a representative from Gov. Chris Gregoire’s office, Sen. Craig Pridemore, D-Vancouver; Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver; and Sen. Brian Hatfield, D-Raymond. Orange had plans to meet with Rep. Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver, later in the day.

Orange said the lawmakers he talked to could not promise to stop cutting state programs, especially while the state faces a $1.5 billion budget shortfall.

“It’s rough,” Orange said. “There will likely be further cuts.” He added that this is the first time he can remember that his group has asked the state to raise taxes. Specifically, the Main Street Alliance is asking lawmakers to raise taxes on the richest in the state, and Orange said it is unfair for the government to give such large tax breaks to oil companies and banks.

He and about 175 other small-business owners also submitted a letter on Thursday to all 147 legislators. The letter appeared to take a page from the Occupy Wall Street movement’s playbook.

“We are small-business owners,” it states. “We take risks. We create jobs. We are part of the 99 percent economy.”

The letter specifically mentioned preserving health care, education and infrastructure programs.

“If reckless budget cuts continue to devastate our customer base, small businesses simply won’t be able to grow and create jobs,” the alliance letter said.

According to the Washington State Budget & Policy Center, the state has made at least $10 billion in program cuts in the last three years. More than 50 percent of those cuts have been to education and about 35 percent have been to health care and environmental programs, according to the center’s report, released Wednesday.

“If we want to have a first-class state, we need to invest in it,” said Orange, who has been a member of the alliance for the last five years. “We can’t be penny pinchers. I think Washington is one of the best states in the country and we’re in danger of losing that.”