Small-business owners know what’s happening in our communities because we serve and employ the workers who make our local economies thrive.
Here in Maine, where the majority of workers either own or work for a small business, the perspective of small-business owners could be considered a thumb on the pulse of Maine’s economy. My organization, the Maine Small Business Coalition, counts 2,500 businesses among its ranks. Our members feel the impacts of policies that affect small business every single day.
Too often, we hear arguments for “business-friendly” policies that don’t match up with our experience — mostly coming from big-business lobbyists who claim to speak for our interests. The latest example is the “business” support for Sen. Susan Collins’ “regulatory time out” and “regulatory accountability” proposals.
These proposals are being touted as some kind of magic panacea for whatever ails America’s job creators. Sen. Collins has used these calls for regulatory roll-backs as the basis for the GOP rebuttal to last weekend’s radio address by President Obama and for an OpEd in the Wall Street Journal.
Take the “time out” proposal, which puts a freeze on new health and workplace safety rules or standards. When a football team calls a time-out, play stops on the field. But that’s not what Sen. Collins is proposing at all. She is proposing to let big polluters, big banks and big insurers keep playing their games, but to take the officials out of the game so they can’t throw flags on penalties.
Who wins in that situation? The big guys do. And who loses? The little guys. Big polluters and big bankers get to do an end run around the rules, and small businesses get to pay the price in lost productivity, higher health care costs and a sputtering economy.
Sen. Collins’ other proposal, the “regulatory accountability act,” is even more deceptively named — and more of a threat to the standards that help create a level playing field for small businesses. This bill wouldn’t just freeze new standards — it would undermine long-standing ones we’ve come to count on. That doesn’t encourage “accountability,” it encourages big corporate players to start a race to the bottom.
Small businesses depend on sensible standards and reasonable rules to create the foundation for business success. Consider the recent work of the Maine Small Business Coalition:
• 1,476 of our members wrote to the Maine Legislature asking lawmakers to oppose LD 1333, the new health insurance law, because of this legislation’s deregulation of the insurance industry. As its rules take effect in October, we are starting to see rural Maine businesses feeling the pinch, some seeing premium increases of over 80 percent from last year.
• Just under 250 of our members signed on to support the Kid-Safe Products Act, a much-needed safeguard on the chemical industry, to protect our customers and our neighbors from exposure to toxic chemicals in everyday products
• More than 100 business owners wrote personal letters to Sens. Snowe and Collins asking them to lead on closing off-shore corporate tax havens, a major source of lost revenue and a prime example of how regulations serve the purpose of level the playing field for all businesses.
Sen. Collins and her colleagues need to understand that Maine small businesses don’t want Congress to sit on the bench and do nothing while the clock ticks down and the economy sinks back into recession. We want Congress to get off the sidelines, get in the game and tackle the real problem — restoring our customer base.
A “time-out” on regulations means a free-for-all for corporations; we should be demanding accountability just as much from corporations as from our government. Congress should get to work rehiring teachers, investing in infrastructure and injecting money into our local economies so small businesses can do what we do best: create jobs and serve our communities.
Nate Libby is director of the Maine Small Business Coalition, a coalition of 2,500 business owners whose mission is advocacy for small businesses and investment in the local economy. Its website is www.mainesmallbusiness.org.