BANGOR, Maine — As President Barack Obama and members of Congress debate ways to jump-start the national economy, Maine small-business owners called on Washington leaders to allow former President George W. Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy to expire.
At a round-table discussion Friday morning in Bangor, members of the Maine Small Business Coalition said extending those tax cuts — an idea that has been discussed as part of a larger tax-cut package -— would not help many who are struggling.
“I don’t know a lot of [small]-business people that make more than $250,000,” Bangor bookstore owner Bill Lippincott said, referring to one of the cutoffs for the existing tax cuts.
Members of the coalition also said they could think of many more ways to spend the anticipated $40 billion that would be available if the cuts expired.
“We’re not talking about adding luxury programs; we’re talking about funding important community programs that are underfunded, like education,” said Rep. Emily Cain, D-Orono, who co-chairs the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee and sat in on Friday’s round-table discussion.
Rick Schweikert, who owns the Grasshopper Shop in downtown Bangor, said it’s possible that the tax cuts could actually affect him but he still thinks they are a bad idea.
“They didn’t work for eight years during the Bush administration,” he said. “When we talk about paying for things like foreign wars, in some ways we’re protecting the rich. Shouldn’t they pay?”
The coalition estimated that allowing the high-income tax cuts to expire and then reinvesting that money in states based on their share of the national population could send $170 million to Maine in 2011.
“This money could provide valuable relief for states — for Maine to keep teachers and firefighters employed. These people make up the backbone of our community,” said Suzanne Kelly, who with her husband owns a house renovation company and a small real estate firm. “With more people employed, small businesses can return to doing what we do best: growing the local economy and putting people back to work.”
Sen. Richard Rosen, R-Bucksport, who owns a small business and co-chairs the Appropriations Committee, said now is not the time to let the tax cuts expire.
“I think they should stay in place for two more years and then we can re-evaluate,” he said Friday. “Otherwise, we’re creating a class warfare. We’re putting someone who makes $251,000 in the same class with Bill Gates.”
Also on Friday, the Maine State Building and Construction Trades Council called on Obama to pass his small-business jobs bill. The group’s president, John Napolitano, said a new loan structure for small businesses would benefit his trade members by creating more jobs opportunities.
“Our people in the building trades have been hurting and hurting badly since the recession,” he said. “We have a high number of unemployed people and we need to get them back to work -— making it easier for small business is exactly what we need right now.”
Rosen said if the administration’s goal is to encourage small businesses to invest in capital, Obama’s bill would do that, but the legislator does not consider it a jobs bill.
“If you want job growth, you need to suspend or reduce payroll taxes,” Rosen said.
Congress is expected to debate next week the matter of extending all or a portion of the Bush tax cuts, which are set to expire at the end of the year. Already, the Congressional Budget Office has determined that extending the Bush tax cuts would be the least effective of 11 different ways to stimulate economic growth and jump-start hiring.
Obama has said he supports extending tax cuts for middle-class Americans but not for high-income earners.
U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud released a statement Friday calling on Congress to pass smart policies that will help Maine and the nation’s entrepreneurs.
“They are the job creators and they are the ones that we must focus on if we truly want our economy to recover,” he said. “The businesses I visited and the thousands of others in Maine deserve nothing less.”