Opinion: Give Oregon's small businesses a break from more taxes
Small Business Week, which began May 1, is the occasion marked by the U.S. Small Business Administration to recognize the contributions of companies like mine.
That's fine as far as it goes. Who doesn't like being recognized? What small businesses need even more than recognition for their contributions, however, is recognition of the conditions they need to succeed.
Oregonians need small businesses to succeed for several reasons, beginning with employment. Every year, the SBA publishes small-business profiles of every state. In its 2021 Oregon profile — the most recent available — the agency estimates that almost 55% of all private-sector employees in the state work for small businesses. This exceeds the national average of 46.8%.
Small businesses also are a powerful engine of job growth. Between March 2019 and March 2020, small businesses were responsible for more than 80% of all net private-sector job growth in Oregon. Small businesses also were responsible for making 21% of the state's exported goods in 2019.
By creating jobs, goods and services, small businesses generate tax revenue to pay for critical government programs. They and their employees support other businesses and invest in their communities. And occasionally a small business becomes a big one.
Most small business owners think less about becoming the next Nike than they do about remaining viable. To that end, more than a few also wish state and local policymakers gave more thought to the needs of small businesses when considering new taxes and regulations.
All employers are sensitive to tax and regulatory changes that occur quickly and voluminously, but small businesses usually lack the capacity to stay on top of changes, let alone adjust easily. They don't have dedicated compliance staff to manage Oregon's ever-shifting regulatory regime. Many don't have in-house finance departments capable of negotiating a complex tax code further muddied by the steady addition of local, regional and city taxes.
Consider just one example. Following the adoption of the Department of Environmental Quality's Cleaner Air Oregon program in 2018, it took an employee at my company an entire month to compile a required inventory of substances. It didn't matter how much of each substance we used, only that it was present. The list even included basic, everyday office-cleaning supplies that most businesses (and homes) have.
The compliance work required of my business, with about 100 employees, was comparable to the work required of companies many times our size.
Further, a long list of state, regional and local taxes and regulations have been implemented since then, and each carries its own additional costs. These include the state's corporate activity tax and the sweeping regulatory changes resulting from Gov. Kate Brown's 2020 executive order rewriting the state's greenhouse gas reductions.
They also include a Metro gross receipts tax to fund homeless services and multiple regional income taxes that involve complex record-keeping and withholding.
Gov. Brown likes to call small businesses "the backbone of our communities and our economy." She's right, as the SBA's statistics indicate. If state, regional and local policymakers want to protect that backbone, especially given the damage and lingering uncertainty inflicted by the COVID pandemic, they should avoid overburdening it with new taxes and regulations.
Instead, as the November election and 2023 legislative session approach, they should commit to slowing down and giving small businesses time to adjust to existing laws and regulations.
Lori Olund is president of Miles Fiberglass & Composites in Clackamas.
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