This week, the Affordable Care Act – the new health care law – goes before the U.S. Supreme Court. It’s a good time to ask: “Is the new law making a dent? Is it helping fix small businesses’ rough ride with health care?” We talked to a crew that knows a thing or two about dents and fixing rides: auto mechanics. These auto shop owners are seeing concrete benefits from the new law. They give the ACA a green light on inspection.
The fact sheet below includes stories and quotes from auto shop owners Jim Houser (Hawthorne Auto Clinic, Portland, Oregon), Brian England (British American Auto Care, Columbia, Maryland), Laura Waite (Jay's Professional Automotive, Renton, Washington), and David White (MDI Imported Car Service, Bar Harbor, Maine).
Read the fact sheet:
AUTO SHOP OWNERS DELIVER VERDICT ON HEALTH LAW: “IT PASSES INSPECTION”
A few days ago, the Main Street Alliance asked small business owners to share what they wanted to hear the President talk about in his upcoming State of the Union address.
We asked: “As a small business owner, what policies would you like to hear the President put forward in the State of the Union Address as part of a vision for supporting small businesses and building an economy that works for the 99 percent in 2012?”
Here are some excerpts from responses we got:
Deborah, owner of a printing and design company in Oregon:
“Help Americans who are having problems with their mortgages – by helping them not lose their homes, they will have more discretionary income to spend and that income can be used to support their local businesses.
“Eliminate tax breaks for large corporations – if they are not keeping their money in the U.S., they should not receive tax breaks.
“And keep on creating jobs – we are a consumer-driven economy and without jobs, Americans do not have money to consume which causes a snowball effect and decreases sales for small businesses.”
Mario, owner of a tax preparation business in Illinois:
“Shine a light on corporate political spending that tilts the playing field against small businesses.”
Bob, owner of a professional training business in Ohio:
“Small and micro businesses do not worry about regulations and taxes. We worry about consumer demand and consumer confidence that promotes business growth. The one percent worry about taxes and regulations so they can play the system to their own advantage.”
Jim, owner of an auto repair shop in Oregon:
“We have so many hard working Americans who can't find jobs. Right here in Portland, many young people are looking for work. They joined the Occupy movement to get some attention for their plight. We have so much work that needs to be done. Teachers need to be rehired, schools and other public buildings need to be upgraded for energy efficiency. And, according to the Wall Street Journal, some of our biggest corporations are hoarding trillions of dollars right now. If they and other wealthy Americans were paying their fair share in taxes, this country would have the money necessary to engage small businesses to hire people into meaningful work, and I would have customers again. When the economy gets back on its feet, then we’ll have the tax revenues needed to pay down our deficit.”
Jose, owner of a real estate agency in Oregon:
“We, small business owners, are an optimistic bunch. We also get right to the point. We need the State of the Union address to set the tone for a great 2012. We do not have a lot of time to complain, as we have to work with the hand we are dealt. The one issue which would bring me more customers and allow me to hire more employees is comprehensive immigration reform. Our housing industry is stalled and motivating a new generation of homebuyers to enter the market will be a big step in the right direction. Our immigration system has to be fixed...let's do it right this time!”
Halcyon, owner of a retail shop in Maine:
“By reducing military spending and ending the wars, we will be able to afford to offer every citizen the basic coverages of health care, increasing job security and mobility, and business formation. We’ll be able to reduce business expenses substantially for Main Street businesses in low population, greying regions of our country – like rural Maine – and make sure fewer of our health care dollars go into the pockets of corporations and more into the delivery of health care.”
Kelly, owner of a custom woodworking business in New Jersey:
“I would like to hear the President talk about 'Real American Companies' and highlight the real contributions they make by employing people here, paying taxes here, and investing here. The President could announce a program to recognize and reward ‘Real American Companies.’ I keep thinking of a heavy machinery company that could build their machines in China, but they don’t. They have kept American jobs – high skill, high paying jobs – here, along with profits and reinvestment, so they should get a business version of the Medal of Freedom.
“This award could include a ‘Presidential Flag’ to be flown outside the corporate headquarters of companies that have won the award. Of course, we could have another award – a corporate turkey award – for companies that cheat on their taxes, move profits and jobs offshore, or manipulate the law in other ways to cheat their employees and the communities that support them.”
Two years ago on January 21, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its ruling in the controversial Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case. In a divided 5-4 decision, the majority ruled that corporations are free to spend unlimited sums of money in our country’s elections.
There’s been plenty of debate about what this ruling means for our elections and for deep-pocketed special interests. But there’s been virtually no attention paid to what it means for small businesses, or what small business owners think about the Citizens United decision. That is, until now…
On January 18, the Main Street Alliance partnered with allies at the American Sustainable Business Council and Small Business Majority to release results relating to Citizens United from an independent poll of 500 small business owners nationwide. The poll asked small business owners whether they thought the Supreme Court’s decision was good or bad for small businesses.
So, what do small business owners think about Citizens United? Turns out, they’re not big fans. In fact, 66 percent of small business owners believe the Citizens United decision is bad for small businesses, compared to only 9 percent who think it’s good. That’s a margin of 7 to 1. Click here to read the report.
Why such strong condemnation of the Supreme Court’s ruling? In the words of Melanie Collins, owner of Melanie’s Home Childcare in Falmouth, Maine and a leader with the Maine Small Business Coalition and Main Street Alliance, “Small business owners aren’t stupid. We know who wins when corporate heavy hitters can spend all the money they want, as secretively as they want, to influence our country’s elections – and it’s not us.”
Collins added, “The Citizens United decision stacked the deck against small businesses. We’ve got to unstack that deck.”
And that’s what the Main Street Alliance is fighting to do, with an “unstack the deck” sign-on statement for small business owners about money in politics and a campaign against “dark money” – that is, contributions to third party groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that can’t be traced back to the source.
Small business owners are uniting against Citizens United.
The House of Representatives is expected to consider a bill shortly that would bring about a major overhaul of rule-making processes that set rules for the financial sector, public health and environmental standards, workplace healthy and safety, and other public safeguards.
The Regulatory Accountability Act (or RAA) is being promoted on the pretext of helping small businesses. But real small business owners aren’t buying the anti-regulatory hype. Indeed, in poll after poll and interview after interview, small business owners say what they need to grow and create jobs is more customers, not deregulation.
We asked leaders in the Main Street Alliance network to share their take on the Regulatory Accountability Act and the broader debate about cutting regulations in the name of small business. Here’s what some of them had to say:
Kelly Conklin co-owns Foley-Waite Associates, a custom woodworking business in Bloomfield, New Jersey:
“The Regulatory Accountability Act is just the next example of attempting to shift risk and shift costs from big businesses to small businesses. This bill would gut rules and standards that protect small businesses, the communities where we live and work, and the customers we rely on for our livelihoods.
“I’d like to know, how will rolling back financial standards and allowing another financial crisis help small businesses? How will rolling back environmental rules and allowing another BP spill help small businesses? To hear these proposals being marketed in the name of helping small businesses, it’s just infuriating. This is small business identity theft – using our good name to push an agenda that benefits narrow special interests at our expense.
“Once again the political ambitions of a few are being placed above economic recovery, environmental common sense and the health and safety of small business owners, our employees, and the communities we serve.”
Jim Houser owns Hawthorne Auto Clinic in Portland, Oregon:
“These attacks on basic regulatory standards are misguided at best. They completely miss – or ignore – the fact that standards and regulations create jobs and support innovation.
“Just look at my industry, auto repair. In our sector, smart, focused automobile emission standards protect the air we breathe, provide needed employment for the nation’s repair technicians who keep our vehicles running clean, and promote innovations that help U.S. companies be on the cutting edge of new automotive technologies.”
Garry Ault owns All Makes Vacuum in Boise, Idaho:
“I’ve been trying to sell my small business and retire for over a year. I had to cut the selling price back to the point where I would make only $1,500 more than I paid for my business in 1980. Why? Because of the policies of the last 20 years that deregulated our financial sector, encouraged reckless gambling on Wall Street, and precipitated the 2008 financial crisis and this Second Great Depression small businesses are struggling to pull through today.
“Deregulation is a scam – it helps the big guys at the little guy’s expense. Our politicians have got to know that by now, and if they do then there’s just no excuse for pushing this agenda that’s going to hurt small businesses even more.”
Melanie Collins owns Melanie’s Home Childcare in Falmouth, Maine:
“Deregulation that helps narrow, big business interests – like banks, insurers, and oil companies – has the reverse effect on small businesses, who are the majority of our job creators. Compromising environmental protections and the ability to maintain healthy communities with a healthy customer base is counterproductive to small business job creation and an economically vibrant future.
“What small businesses need are customers – Americans with spending money in their pockets – not deregulation that gives big corporations free reign to cut corners, use their market power at our expense, and force even more small businesses to lay people off and close up shop.”
On May 19, Main Street Alliance members from Louisiana and Maine were joined by Senator Dick Durbin on a conference call highlighting the disproportionate impact of debit card swipe fees on small businesses. Rules limiting swipe fees, passed last year and set to go into effect this summer, are now under attack from the banking lobby, with an amendment under consideration to delay the rules from taking effect for up to 24 months.
Here are a sampling of quotes from speakers on the call:
Mary Noel Black, owner of The UPS Store at Citiplace in Baton Rouge, LA:
“This system is broken and small businesses are paying the price in constantly increasing debit swipe fees. Small businesses have the least leverage, the least ability to negotiate with the big banks and the card companies, so we end up with the worst contracts.
“Those who say they want to delay and study this issue, are really only paving the way for these much-needed swipe fee limits to die a quiet death. Every month of delay on the new swipe fee rules is another $1.3 billion bailout to the banks – delaying 15 months translates into another $15-20 billion gift to the banks, paid for off the backs of small business owners like me.”
Rita Moran, owner of Apple Valley Books in Winthrop, ME:
“Swipe fees are uneven, unfair and it’s absurd! This issue pits one business against another and the customers are caught in the middle. Every day I have customers come in, hand me their debit card and say they want to use it as a credit card because the banks told them to. This is divisive. Beyond the dollars and cents issue, this is a community issue.”
Senator Dick Durbin, Assistant Senate Majority Leader:
“The swipe fee issue is a very important issue for small businesses across America. These are tough times. I’ve heard so many speeches on the floor of the Senate – by both political parties – about how we need to stand behind small businesses because they are the job creators of America. Moving the new swipe fee rules forward is a key opportunity to do that.
“Last year, we got a bipartisan vote of 47 Democrats and 17 Republicans to set the Federal Reserve on the path to establishing reasonable interchange fees. Swipe fees account for $1.3 billion each month, the lion’s share of that going to the biggest banks on Wall Street. We want to end the price fixing by the card companies, end this rip-off of consumers and small businesses by making sure these fees are reasonable.
“The next two weeks are a critical moment for this issue as we wait for the Federal Reserve to announce the rule in the first part of June. We’ll get to look at the rule, dispel rumors about what the rule will do, and then we can move forward from there to implement the rule by the July 21st deadline and ensure fair treatment for all of our small businesses.
“I encourage small business owners in every state to be in touch with your Members of Congress and let them know that this is a critical issue for the growth and expansion of small businesses across America.”
MSA and the Maine Small Business Coalition co-hosted a press call on May 17 with small business owners from Maine, Oregon, Montana, and Illinois about health care. The business owners discussed the status of health care implementation in their states and recounted the role of health insurance companies in blocking and undermining new benefits for small businesses.
“Since the insurance industry lost the battle on health care reform at the national level, they’ve been turning their attention to states. They put their lobbyists to work here in Maine and almost overnight they’ve gutted key consumer protections in our insurance laws,” said John Costin, owner of Veneer Services Unlimited in Kennebunk, Maine and a leader with the Maine Small Business Coalition.
“Anthem and the other insurance companies have taken the money small business owners like me pay in premiums and used it to completely subvert our state’s consumer protections in insurance law,” Costin said. Maine Bureau of Insurance Superintendent Mila Kofman resigned yesterday due to fundamental philosophical differences with Maine Governor Paul LePage over LD1333, the state legislation passed last week that guts consumer protections and imposes a new tax on policy-holders.
“There are clear winners and losers in the law just passed here in Maine,” said Nate Libby, director of the Maine Small Business Coalition. “The winners are insurance giants like Anthem and WellPoint. The losers are small business owners and their employees, especially people with health conditions, people aging up beyond 48, and rural Mainers. Given this turn of events with LD1333 ramrodded through our legislature with the backing of the insurance companies, small business owners in our network want to know how many of our premium dollars Anthem and WellPoint are using to lobby against our best interests.”
Jim Houser, owner of Hawthorne Auto Clinic in Portland, Oregon and co-chair of MSA-Oregon, has served on Oregon’s Consumer Advisory Group for development of the health insurance exchange. “We came up with strong recommendations for our insurance exchange, including giving it the ability to negotiate for rates and services, and protecting its governance from conflicts of interest,” said Houser. “During the meetings we had to develop our proposal, no one from the insurance industry came before us to voice any concerns or ask for modifications.”
“Then, when our proposal was delivered to the legislature, the insurance lobbyists swarmed key legislators to water down the bill,” Houser continued. “They got what they wanted – the bill that passed our State Senate prohibits the exchange from negotiating on our behalf, and it gives insurance executives two seats on the exchange board. Putting the exchange in a straitjacket and subjecting it to a clear conflict of interest in governance is not good for small businesses.”
Brianne Harrington is the owner of The Painted Pot, a small business in Helena, Montana and a leader with the Montana Small Business Alliance. “I just got a call from my insurance company. Despite the fact that we have a high-deductible plan – $5,000 per person and $10,000 for our family – and despite the fact that it pays only half of costs beyond that, we’re still getting hit with an increase of more than 50 percent. That’s why we were holding out to get rate review passed in the Montana legislature. But our big insurers didn’t want that and they got the bill killed, so now there are no protections whatsoever on how much my insurance company can raise my rates.”
Harrington added, “Speaking of the secret money tunnel between the insurance industry and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, we actually dropped our membership in the Montana State Chamber a couple years ago because we saw that our dues were being funneled to lobby for big business interests, not small businesses. The insurance companies don’t have the best interests of small business owners like me at heart. They just want to take my money and lobby against me.”