Our elected leaders have been back in session for just over two weeks and once again it is clear that the majority of their time will be -- must be -- dominated by the budget. Our recession still runs deep, scores of Californians are still waiting in the unemployment line, and businesses -- mostly small businesses -- from Del Norte to Del Mar are still shutting their doors at a clip. As we face another crushing multibillion dollar state deficit, who can blame them?
Well, California voters can, and they'd be justified.
Voters actually have an opportunity to make a positive change for the Golden State this November. We can make the bold decision to remove those officials who continue to force us to bail them out for their reckless partying, and instead we can support individuals who demonstrate that they genuinely care about Main Street, jobs and the livelihood of our state.
Tenants of the Assembly and Senate: It's not too late. You still have a shot at legislative salvation. You still have a chance to protect and save many precious California jobs -- not just thousands throughout the many communities you represent, but quite possibly your own come November.
The following is a "Small Business Check List" to give our elected officials a road map in 2010 to make sure they're staying the course by taking a number of critically important fundamental steps to protect small businesses and working families in their respective districts. Hats off to any legislators that may already be headed down this path on their own, but our guess is that most haven't given this careful consideration and would truly benefit from a checklist as they embark upon a busy year in the Capitol.
Small business checklist
Approximately 99.7 percent of all businesses are small business. The majority of the 3.6 million small businesses in California are already operating on razor-thin profit margins. Most employers have cut about as much as they can from utilities, overhead, contracts and other nonadministrative expenses; if government now forces a new cost, the likely casualty will be the employee. Our government leaders are looking at all sorts of new costs -- a split roll property tax, a business net receipts tax, and an oil or gas tax hike, to name a few.
As a small business owner who owns an electrical engineering company in Bakersfield recently told me, "Regulations are strangling small businesses out of existence in California." Whether it is onerous diesel regulations, a pending AB 32 Cap-and-Trade system, or other restrictive labor regulations such as the daily overtime requirement, small businesses and their employees are being asphyxiated by costly regulatory mandates. According to a 2005 study by the U.S. Small Business Administration, businesses with fewer than 20 employees on average pay 45 percent more to comply with federal regulations than businesses with more than 500 employees. There is always one resounding message: regulatory reform is needed if we want to save and create jobs in California.
In 2009, Sen. Rod Wright took an important step in that direction with SB 356, Small Business Regulatory Reform legislation, which NFIB/California was proud to co-sponsor. This legislation would hold state agencies and departments accountable by requiring them to involve and inform small businesses throughout the regulatory process, conduct a specific small business economic analysis, and consider an alternative that is less of a burden to small businesses. Smart regulations protect jobs and economic growth.
As Gov. Schwarzenegger said in his final State of the State address, tort reform is critical to California's economic recovery. California narrowly dodged designation as a "Judicial Hell Hole" by the American Tort Reform Association last year. In 2008, the legislature and governor took a step in the right direction with the passage of SB 1608 that encourages disability access while providing some protection to businesses from those who would use a good law for their own benefit. However, this is clearly not enough, as greedy lawyers continue to get away with legalized drive-by robbery. Reasonably limiting non-economic damages and shielding innocent retailers of potentially dangerous products would be continued steps in the right direction for legal reform.
Most small business owners today tell me that what they need the most is more customers walking through the door. Our leaders can truly help protect small businesses, jobs and the local economy by taking the time with other local community leaders to get these struggling employers the financial and investment support they desperately need.
California leaders -- now is the time to show your true colors and "walk the walk" that you regularly verbalized during your days as a candidate. But the clock is ticking, and Election Day will arrive all too soon. You can take the high road and save jobs and communities in our state, or you can continue with the status quo.
The choice is yours. But, remember, come November, it is also ours.
Kabateck is executive director of NFIB/California.