The state’s small businesses, like other groups, are closely watching the legislative session for the outcome of bills that will affect them. They make up most of the employer firms in the state, numbering 209,100 businesses, based on the 2003 Census and multiplied by the state’s total number of employer businesses in 2005, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
The Mississippi Economic Council (MEC) closely follows legislation that affects the state’s businesses and their members, many of whom are categorized as small.
“We have two big deadlines for bills behind us now and we will see what happens,” MEC spokesman Scott Waller said. “We believe the issues of education, insurance, tourism and research are vitally important to the state’s small businesses.”
The MEC supports full funding of sustainable education, recognizing that without a strong education system the state’s workforce suffers. “That means businesses of all sizes suffer,” Waller said. “That’s one reason the MEC is so supportive of education; we’re dealing with a lot of people and it all begins with the education system.”
He said the organization will continue to support funding bills for education because they want businesses to have a qualified workforce.
The group sees the insurance crisis facing the state as crucial to every business in the state. Noting that a bill to retain a strong, affordable insurance industry in the state has come out of both chambers, Waller praised the cooperative effort on both sides of the legislature. The MEC doesn’t necessarily support a particular bill but is pleased that action has been taken.
“It’s important, regardless of where you live in Mississippi, and people all over the state are starting to understand that. Business can’t open without affordable insurance. That’s an extremely big issue right now,” Waller said. “The Gulf Coast Business Council is trying to work with everyone. Their effort to bring everyone to the table is admirable and the MEC is supportive of that.”
A tourism bill giving incentives for new investment in the state has passed both chambers. It is designed to encourage other businesses to come into the state and grow.
“The MEC is here to support Momentum Mississippi in these efforts as needed,” he added. “This bill is fair to all small businesses. It focuses on bringing in new tourism that supports existing business rather than competing with them.”
Additionally, Waller said the MEC is behind a bill establishing technology research efforts at the state’s universities that will have commercial applications because all businesses will benefit.
Another small business watchdog at the capital is the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) whose lobbyist and state director, Ron Aldridge, keeps members abreast of key issues.
“NFIB Mississippi will not quit working to solve these continuing nagging problems for small business,” he said.
He lists the following issues of concern:
• Repeal the inventory tax and the personal property tax on furniture, fixtures and equipment;
• Exempt medium-weight intrastate vehicles from federal regulations;
• Enact a state self-employment tax deduction;
• Allow attorney fees for bad check collection;
• Ensure a strong eminent domain law that protects private property rights;
• Provide protection from state regulations with more flexible rulemaking requirements and small business input;
• Ensure local reciprocity with one statewide license and bond for licensed contractors;
• Allow a no-stacking option to lower uninsured motorist premiums;
• No food or beverage liability for obesity;
• Allow a reasonable increase in unemployment benefits without increasing employer taxes;
• Enact common sense sales tax exemptions;
• Lower-cost access to courts by raising justice court jurisdiction for civil cases.
“The NFIB Mississippi will continue working to oppose a state minimum or living wage law, tax and fee increases government inefficiency and health insurance mandates,” Aldridge said. “Labor unions are attempting to establish minimum or living wage laws in each of the states and Mississippi is no exception.”
He cites legislation introduced that sets a state minimum wage at $6.25 per hour beginning July 15 of this year and increasing to $7.25 on January 15, 2008, as harmful. The increases would equal a 40% increase in less than one year and yearly increases thereafter based on the inflation rate.
“This type of unfunded government mandate will only do harm to small businesses struggling with major insurance, utility and transportation cost increases as well as harm the very employees they supposedly attempt to help,” he said. “In addition to the direct increase in wages, businesses will be forced to pay more in taxes, social security, Medicare and unemployment, more in workers’ comp premiums based on wages and will incur a ripple effect of having to increase other wages due to the forced compression of the wage rate.”
Aldridge says 84% of NFIB members oppose an increase and a majority would be forced to cut hours worked, cut jobs or raise prices to all consumers if the increase passes.
Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at email@example.com.