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Biz bills mixed bag this session

Small business owners are hopeful that legislation allowing health savings accounts the same deductions on a state basis already in place on a federal level will soon become law.
At press time, two differently drawn bills, Senate Bill 2633 and House Bill 1213, were moving through legislative chambers.

“Together, the bills take care of complying with the Health Savings Account Availability Act and acknowledging the same deductibility already in place on federal income tax returns for health savings accounts,” said Ron Aldridge, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB).

Passed by Congress in 2003, the Health Savings Account Availability Act allows health savings accounts (HSAs) to provide for tax-favored savings for healthcare expenses, allow unused contributions to flexible spending accounts (FSAs) to be carried forward or transferred into certain retirement accounts or HSAs, and waive information reporting requirements for certain health arrangements, including FSAs.

“Health insurance costs represent the number one problem in America for small business,” said Aldridge. “We know there are 27 million working people who are uninsured, and 63% of them are either self-employed or work for a small business that has fewer than 100 employees.”

No mandates on coverage

In a victory for Mississippi business, legislation was defeated that would have mandated particular coverage on health insurance, said Jay Moon, president and CEO of Mississippi Manufacturers Association.

“The cost of healthcare is continuing to go through the roof, and placing mandated coverage escalates the cost to provide quality healthcare for employees,” he said. “That’s an issue between an employer and employee and shouldn’t be mandated.”

Tax break and training, too

Business owners throughout the state lauded the passage of a bill that will provide an unemployment tax reduction for Mississippi employers totaling $35 million for 2005, dedicates money to fund workforce training, and protects the security of the unemployment trust fund.
v“We can give small businesses a tax break to help job creation, redirect $20 million to fund additional workforce training programs at our community colleges to help keep unemployment low, to help our workers, and do all of this without effecting Mississippi’s budget,” said Gov. Haley Barbour.

Aldridge said some 33,000 of 55,000 employers who pay unemployment taxes in Mississippi are small businesses.

“This legislation also keeps an unemployment tax increase from occurring automatically under current law,” he said, “and comes at a terrific time to help small business.”

Holding the line on increases

Pro-business lobbyists report they were able to hold the line on tax and fee increases in general.

“With other increases in the cost of doing business, increasing taxes and fees would harm entrepreneurs, and make it chaotic to stay afloat,” said Aldridge. “A few other little fees have been increased. We certainly understand some fees, like charging $2 to get into a state park, even though you almost can’t afford to pay a person to stand there and take the money. We want to make sure taxes and fees relate to the particular operation versus just trying to raise money. For example, as a lobbyist, I don’t mind paying more than $25 annually for a lobbyist fee.”

Legislation failed that would have established a volunteer small business committee to monitor and provide input on legislation that might adversely affect small business, said Aldridge.

“We’re trying to establish these volunteer committees all around the country,” he said. “Small businesses can’t get a SteelCorr or Nissan bill, but at least establishing this committee would give us the opportunity to have a group with input that could maybe negotiate a better solution so legislators would still get what they need.”

Resurrecting Momentum?

The business community remains hopeful that the Momentum Mississippi Incentive Bill, which died on the calendar in the House, will be resurrected before the legislative session ends on April 3.

“The Momentum Mississippi incentive legislation is still alive in the Legislature in several different forms, and needs to move forward this session in order to provide local and state economic developers the flexibility to move quickly on smaller projects, and to give existing industry the shot in the arm that they need to upgrade equipment and keep jobs in Mississippi,” said Blake Wilson, president of the Mississippi Economic Council.

“Smaller projects don’t get the same kind of press as a major project, but collectively they create a huge impact,” he said. “Without the Momentum Mississippi package, we lose our edge in making the kind of impact we need in an economy that is creating a higher level of interest, and a very tough competitive market with other states. This is why we need to keep our edge razor sharp. The Momentum Mississippi legislation does this.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com.

About Lynne W. Jeter

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