PORTLAND, Maine — U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, told a crowd of young Portland-area entrepreneurs Tuesday night more work must be done in Washington to protect businesses from hackers, make it easier for start-ups to raise capital and simplify a convoluted federal tax code.
Collins touched on a range of topics as the keynote speaker for the kickoff event to the fourth annual entreverge awards competition held by the local young business leader group PROPEL to honor upstart Portland-area innovators.
Among the issues she addressed was the “hyperpartisan” atmosphere in Congress that drove out her Senate colleague Olympia Snowe. Collins urged attendees to demand civility and openness to bipartisan solutions from their elected officials at all levels.
The senator’s speech in the University of Southern Maine’s Hannaford Hall was followed by a networking event for attending entrepreneurs. Nominations for the entreverge awards are being accepted through PROPEL’s website.
Collins told the business leaders on hand that the Internet, which provides many start-ups with the organizational and outreach tools necessary to work efficiently and get established, also provides companies with some of their biggest threats.
She said the Government Accountability Office has reported that attempts to hack the U.S. government network have increased by 650 percent over the past five years.
“The intellectual property of businesses, on which billions of dollars is spent, is being constantly targeted, particularly by China,” Collins told the Portland crowd Tuesday. “Whether a business makes music, medicine, computer software or microbrewed beer, the research and development that result from hard work, creativity and investment are at risk of theft by cybercriminals. In fact, a study last year by Norton, the computer-security company, pegged the annual cost of cybercrime to businesses and individuals at $114 billion.”
The senator said she partnered with Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., to introduce the Cybersecurity Act of 2012, which would set federal cybersecurity standards for the computer systems running the nation’s “most critical infrastructure,” such as electricity, water and “major financial networks.”
Collins in her comments also tackled a less ominous but perhaps more cumbersome threat to business owners. The senator called for “an overhaul of our tax code,” noting the need for change but stopping short of proposing specific reforms.
“Someone once observed that America needs a tax code that looks like it was designed on purpose,” she said. “We now have $1.1 trillion in credits, deductions and exemptions. Comprehensive tax reform, a system that is simple, fair and pro-growth, would lower most tax rates, bring back jobs now being shipped overseas and generate more revenue.”
She also touted the Jumpstart Our Business Startups — or JOBS — Act sponsored by her and 72 other senators. Collins finished her talk by lamenting the retirement of fellow U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, calling for a return to bipartisan compromise and a departure from the party-line “vitriolic rhetoric” Snowe identified in part as the motivation for her departure from office.
“This [JOBS Act] is designed to make it simpler and less costly for small, emerging growth companies to raise capital and go public,” Collins said. “These policy changes are bipartisan measures that would boost capital formation by enabling more companies to reap the benefits of a public listing. They also represent the kind of accomplishments that are possible in Washington when Republicans and Democrats set partisan differences aside and come together to find solutions.”