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Small-business ideas need to be aired


Before the 2004 Iowa Legislature convened, Senate Majority Leader Stewart Iverson, a Dows Republican, said in his newsletter: “Small businesses have not received the attention from legislators they deserve …” and went on to suggest a couple of possible steps: An advocate office within state government that could evaluate the effect of various bureaucratic rules on small businesses; or a citizen’s board of small-business leaders to do the same thing.

Later, Sen. Jack Hatch, a Des Moines Democrat., worked on an economic development plan that included “supporting entrepreneurship through small-business development councils.”

Doesn’t that sound like an ideal situation for compromise? Wouldn’t you have expected at least a modest attempt to improve Iowa’s reputation as a poor location for small-businesses?

But it wasn’t meant to be in the acrimonious session that followed. The only small-business actions that were considered took the form of various tax changes, were vetoed by the governor, and now must be sorted out by the Iowa Supreme Court.

It’s discouraging to see two-party politics turn into an arm-wrestling contest, with one big winner and one crushed loser for each issue.

“The atmosphere in the Legislature was not one that made minority proposals a consideration for debate,” Hatch said. “Our proposals never got out of committee. The Republican majority refused to consider any proposal by the Democrats.”

What about the Republicans’ stated interest in helping small-business owners? “In their legislation, they did not propose any changes in small-business development,” Hatch said. “They talked about the issue, but either couldn’t get their caucus to focus or weren’t serious about it.”

Were Iverson’s and Hatch’s ideas the best ones available? A full public discussion would have brought out some disagreement, no doubt. For example, David Brasher, state director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, says his group’s 8,000 Iowa members aren’t particularly interested in adding government employees and offices to work on small-business matters. “We don’t remember government creating a whole lot of jobs in the past,” he says. “We represent companies that came up with a good idea and made it work without government planners and think tanks.”

But Brasher, like most observers, agrees that our current situation could stand improvement. When the Small Business Survival Committee evaluated the states in 2003 on their friendliness toward small businesses, we ranked 41st.

If we want to do better than that, we need to put together a Legislature that’s willing to discuss the problem like civilized adults.  

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