Some argue that restoring consumer confidence is the first step toward re-starting our economy, but I think there is a step prior to that: to restore a small-business owner’s confidence so he or she can even afford, or want, to re-open his or her doors to greet customers. This is especially the case in Colorado.
Right now, policy makers are rightly engaged in the all-consuming tasks of bolstering our health-care system; increasing the pipeline of PPE to frontline responders; boosting — substantially — access to testing; paving the way for fast-track protocols of treatments and medications, and, hopefully soon, systematizing access to a broadly distributed vaccine.
Concurrent with those immediate priorities, policy makers could start the spade work on some long-overdue reforms that could make Colorado more welcoming to small-business owners than it has been.
Our state was never an easy place to do business before COVID-19. It was lucky enough to benefit from a strong economy mainly created by federal actions such as regulatory relief and the Tax Care and Jobs Act. Now, the state will have to step up in a way it never has before.
Here are three things to start with, and if you’d like to tuck them under some rubric, how about “Let’s stop hurting ourselves”:
Reform the state’s sales tax structure
Having more than 700 taxing entities has made Colorado a national example — of how not to do it. The state is losing business from within by forcing entrepreneurs to deal with a supreme compliance headache, and from without by the loss of online sales from businesses that don’t want to sell to Coloradans over the internet because of the reporting and remittance requirements.
Repeal the law giving cities and counties the right to set their own minimum-wage rates
Having one state rate made calculating hiring-and-expansion plans easier to factor. A needless new law now requires a small-business owner to consider whether or not to remain in his or her current place of operation, move to another city or county, or just say "to hell with it" and close up shop.
Welcome, not spurn, independent contracting
The rise of independent contracting is due primarily to a very American desire to be your own boss, set your own hours, and establish your own compensation. Yet, governments and labor unions see this as some threat and are demanding more independent contractors be classified as employees of someone. The coronavirus crisis has brought to the fore the importance of independent contracting. A legislative measure to establish a bright line would set up a clearer system for employee and independent contractor classifications. It has been bandied about the Colorado General Assembly for a few sessions. It should be passed with all due dispatch.
Aren’t there many other things that would help small businesses recover? You bet. But let us first see if any of the three steps offered here can be achieved. That will indicate for small businesses the chances for accomplishing anything else.
The road to economic recovery begins on Main Street, not Wall Street, and for policy makers, it must start with this simple realization: There is no salary to collect, no vacation time to earn, no leave time to use, no other benefit to access, if there is no job to go to. And there will be no job to go to if this state, or any other, keeps putting an albatross around the necks of small-business owners with a heavy regulatory and tax regime.
Tony Gagliardi is Colorado state director for the National Federation of Independent Business.