As the presidential race takes shape, business owners want to be heard.
With decisive wins in four states, including delegate-rich California, on Tuesday, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is now the presumptive Democratic nominee. The presidential election has become a two-person match between Clinton and the real estate billionaire Donald Trump.
This final winnowing has followed a long, messy primary season, which at its peak included 17 potential candidates from both parties. Still, the current slate leaves many small–business owners wondering which candidate best represents them.
The most recent national polls show the candidates either in a dead heat, or Clinton taking a small lead. And small-business owners are similarly divided. For them, the presidential race has been something of depressing affair that hasn’t shown any of the candidates in a particularly favorable light. More important, the candidates aren’t making enough of an effort to reach business owners, entrepreneurs say.
“This election is concerning to me,” says Judy Peterson, the co-owner and general manager of Pro Printing and Graphics, a three-employee business in North Platte, Nebraska. “I don’t like how it has become a free-for-all, focusing more on saying things about the candidates that would be damaging.”
In addition to more civility, business owners would like more clarity on issues that they say concern them most, but which they haven’t heard enough about. That includes more talk on the economy, job creation, overseas trade, and other things critical to running a business.
Here are five topics they want to hear more about, as well as what the candidates have said on the topics so far.
1. Health care
The passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2010 was one of the biggest expansions of the social safety net in years. Yet it’s proved controversial for small-business owners, many of whom say they still struggle with costs and the administrative burdens of complying, as they seek to provide health benefits to their employees. Concerns have mounted since the beginning of 2016, when businesses with 50 or more employees were required to offer coverage, or pay tax penalties
Clinton says she would work to improve the ACA, including making premiums more affordable, and lessening out-of-pocket expenses for consumers. That might include tax credits of up to $5,000 to offset excessive expenses, and premium costs above 5% of income. She’d also work to create a public option, invest in health-care navigation technology that would help consumers make choices, and conduct more outreach to sign up more people for health-care plans.
Trump says he’d repeal the ACA, and essentially let states deal with health-care issues for their residents. That would include changing regulations to let states buy and sell insurance across state lines. He also favors giving individual consumers access to federal health savings accounts, and making monthly premium payments fully deductible at tax time.
Mark Aselstine, owner of Uncorked Ventures, an online wine subscription service based in El Cerrito, California, with three employees, favors Clinton’s plan of strengthening the ACA. He says the cost of health insurance options in general is an overriding concern. He currently can’t afford to offer his employees health insurance, so they rely on the exchanges for that. For his part, he relies on his wife’s plan, provided through her high school counseling job. His chief concern in managing his son’s chronic asthma, which he fears might become an issue with coverage he sees as less comprehensive from the exchanges.
“Even if we could handle the expense of the plans, they would not necessarily cover his current doctors, and having to start over is a non-starter,” Aselstine says.
Perhaps nowhere else in the election cycle has a single issue ignited such controversy, as candidates grapple with issues surrounding immigration laws that have not been updated in close to 40 years. At stake is the roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants living, working, and going to school in the U.S. For years, Congress has been deadlocked over immigration reform, which might give people a pathway to citizenship. In late 2014, President Obama issued a contentious executive order granting temporary legal status to undocumented aliens, and potentially offering them a path to citizenship.
Clinton would push for comprehensive immigration reform in Congress that includes a full path to citizenship, particularly for so-called DREAMers — undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. by their parents as kids. She would end detention of families, and would promote programs that help would help integrate immigrants into communities. She would also uphold the president’s executive action on immigration, and she would offer health care to undocumented immigrant families.
Trump has said he’d round up and deport the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., which some conservative economic experts have said would said would have catastrophic consequences for the economy, reducing the GDP by 5.7% and costing nearly $1.6 trillion to enforce. Just as controversially, he’d place a ban on Muslims who want to enter the country. He’d also build a nearly 2,000-mile wall along the southern border with Mexico, while tripling the number of immigration officers across the country. He’d also scuttle federal funding to cities, known as sanctuary cities for undocumented aliens, if they don’t comply with new immigration laws.
Peterson, a registered Republican who has voted for her party in the last three elections but may vote for Clinton, says she finds Trump’s rhetoric on immigration distasteful and repellent. And she fears the impact of his proposed policies on Nebraska and in her locale, which has both a growing Hispanic population and large immigrant populations, including from Pakistan, and Sudan.
“I don’t agree with Trump’s ideas of banning Muslims or sending people back to their countries,” Peterson says. “They are hardworking and good community members…there needs to be immigration reform.”
Hack attacks against small businesses are on the rise, with nearly two thirds of all targeted attacks taking place against small and mid-sized businesses, according to security firm Symantec. Yet neither candidate has staked out a very clear position on this ever-evolving and increasing problem.
Clinton has said she considers cybersecurity a matter of national security, and has said that fending off such attacks is critical for business and commerce to operate correctly.
Trump has been fairly silent on the matter, and has been criticized in the press for his ignorance on cybersecurity basics.
The lack of talk about cybersecurity is bothersome to Aselstine, who wants to make sure his ecommerce business doesn’t suffer hack attacks. “I have not heard anyone who has spoken [about cybersecurity] in way that is profound or that has shown that they understood what they were talking about,” he says, adding that he’d like it if the federal government set up some sort of agency, or perhaps leverage the Small Business Administration, where he could get unbiased and up-to-date information about best practices around the cybersecurity.
Perhaps no issue hits home for small-business owners more than taxes. While businesses are taxed at 15% for their first $50,000 in income, that rate could jump as high as 39% as their income increases.
The issue is complicated for entrepreneurs, not only because many are sole proprietors, so their business and personal income are one and the same. But also because many run S-Corps., which means profits and losses pass through to the owners’ own income.
Clinton would increase tax rates on the wealthiest, imposing a 4% surcharge above the top tax rate on incomes above $5 million. She’d also enact a minimum tax rate of 30% for people making more than $1 million annually, using a tax referred to as the Buffett rule. She would also nearly double the top capital gains rate to 39.6%. And when it comes to corporate taxes, she’d pretty much leave them at their current rate, but she’d also close tax loopholes that create incentives to incorporate overseas, through inversions and earnings stripping. She’d also impose an exit tax on earnings accumulated prior to switching nationality.
Trump would go in the opposite direction. Under his plan, top earners would pay taxes of 25%, as opposed to the current top individual tax rate of 39.6%. He’d also decrease corporate taxes to 15 percent. S-Corps and other pass-through entities like LLCs, would also have a top tax rate of 15%. Trump would go easy on companies that have been stashing cash overseas. Owners would be allowed to repatriate earnings, which would be subject to a one-time 10% tax. He would also close inversion loopholes that let corporations defer taxes by banking funds overseas. Instead, companies would pay taxes on income at the time it is earned.
For Dwayne Butler, co-owner and president of Red Carpet Employment Agency, a three-person staffing firm in Texarkana, Arkansas, it’s Trump’s proposals that make the most sense. “We would support that type of tax cut,” Butler said in an email, referring to the company’s status as an S-Corp. “When applied on a nationwide basis it would certainly spark job growth and enhance the true chances of an economic recovery.”
The U.S. is in its final round of negotiations for Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which potentially creates an 11-nation block involving 40% of the world’s economies, in Latin America and Asia. In addition to reducing tariffs, it would create minimal standards for working conditions in many developing countries. Yet trade agreements are a huge source of contention, particularly for small-business owners who fear that lower tariffs will lead to a flood of cheaper goods from other countries.
Both candidates have voiced opposition to the TPP, as well as other trade agreements.
Although Clinton has supported trade agreements in the past, including the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) passed during her husband’s administration, she has more recently said she opposes the TPP, for not meeting her standards. Among her concerns, the agreement does not support middle class jobs and strong wages in the U.S.
Trump has consistently taken a protectionist stance that would, for example, punish China and Mexico with new tariffs of 45% and 35%, respectively. He’d also potentially roll-back old agreements like NAFTA, and has suggested he would penalize U.S. companies that move jobs overseas.
Bob Hammer, the co-founder of Pareto Point Industries, a manufacturer of an oil filtration part for cars, based in San Pedro, California, says his chief concern is protection of his intellectual property overseas. Hammer says he has seven patents for his product, but it can cost tens of thousands of dollars to enforce each patent per region, which can be prohibitive.
“I would like to see something…that furthers the ability of small businesses to compete [overseas], with American-made products,” Hammer says.
Hammer says he had been a Democrat for 40 years, but switched to the Republican party about 8 months ago out of distrust for the progressive movement. In a match-up between Clinton and Trump, he said he would vote for Trump, although with a lot of reservations.