The Star Tribune reports that the recently concluded legislative session was “kind to business” (June 20). That article, like the session, largely ignored small business, even though 98 percent of Minnesota businesses are small and employ 52 percent of our workforce. (That’s 1.2 million Minnesotans.)
This session did not address small businesses’ most pressing issue. In survey after survey, most owners of small businesses identify affordable health care as their top concern. According to the Council of Economic Advisers, small businesses pay up to 18 percent more per worker than do large firms for the same health-insurance policies, leading many to conclude that small businesses subsidize health care for large businesses. (Read more research and solutions on health care for small businesses at smallbusinessmn.org.)
This session lowered utility rates for big businesses and increased rates on small businesses, and enacted a fee on emerging-energy small-business customers.
Equity crowdfunding passed this session to help small-business owners access capital. However, the new law does not require a timeline to create rules needed to enact the program. Congress passed a similar law years ago that, without rules, sits idle.
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency citizens’ board was abolished this session because it requested an environmental-impact review of a proposed large corporate farm. This signals more favoritism toward big business and further disadvantages to small-business farms that may be downstream from heavy polluters, that do not benefit from economies of scale and that create far less pollution.
Small businesses, such as small rice farms, may be destroyed as a result of a law passed this session that defunds enforcement of decades-old sulfate dumping standards. Pollinator-friendly small businesses now face unfair competition practices because of a new law that allows “pollinator friendly” labels on products that are or may be lethal to pollinators.
Minnesota businesses of all sizes need transportation to get goods to market, employees to work and customers to their doors. Transportation was left largely unaddressed this session.
In Greater Minnesota, tens of thousands of small-business owners, customers and employees do not have adequate Internet access. Last session, Small Business Minnesota supported an Internet access program for Greater Minnesota. This session, the program was almost eliminated. After protest, it was “reinstated,” but with only 10 percent of its funding.
Small Business Minnesota helped gain property tax relief specifically for small businesses last session. Some of those interviewed in the Star Tribune’s article opposed this law, stating “it does not help big businesses.” (We’ve never heard these groups testify against a big-business bill because “it does not help small businesses.”) The tax bill that waits for 2016 gives property tax breaks to big businesses.
This session took little notice of small businesses that are, by all accounts, the backbone of our economy. Currently, small businesses create two of every three new jobs and employ more Minnesotans than all the Fortune 500 companies combined. Small businesses produce the vast majority of patents, and those patents are most often cited in the top 1 percent. Small businesses contribute 50 percent of the GDP, and that number is growing.
Small-business owners are not sending lobbyists with million-dollar salaries to the State Capitol, but we can influence public policy in other ways. Contact legislators, especially those who claim to be friends of small business but who support policies contrary that claim. Support organizations that focus solely on small-business public policy. Understand that other business organizations are often caught between supporting their big-business vs. small-business members, and be wary of organizations that claim to support small businesses but carry out a big-business agenda.
Audrey Britton is public- and government-relations chair for Small Business Minnesota and is the owner of a small business. She was a DFL candidate for the Minnesota House in 2012 and 2014.