Oregon Business Leaders Unite to Talk Economy

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This is a guest post by Jennifer Keenan, Defend Oregon Outreach Coordinator.

For too long, the voice of the business community has been dominated by large corporate interests, political consultants, and special interest lobbyists, who’ve all pushed a narrow agenda of tax cuts and deregulation for large corporations. And it’s all been in the name of “job creation” and “protecting small businesses.” (See, among others, ALEC.)

Thankfully, that’s starting to change, as actual small business owners and leaders have begun to organize in order to tell the real story of small business in America. In Oregon, that movement is being led by groups like the Main Street Alliance, Equity Alliance Oregon, and VOIS Alliance.

To mark National Small Business Week (did you know there was a National Small Business Week?), 20 business leaders came together on Tuesday at Talking Drum Bookstore and Coffee House in Northeast Portland to talk about how to turn around our economy. Rather than the tired talking points you hear on Fox News, these leaders talked about the need for electoral reform, green jobs and sustainability, healthcare reform, and a fairer tax system that supports schools and business infrastructure. The event was spearheaded by Mainstreet Alliance Oregon, with help from VOIS and Equity Alliance, among others. They were joined by Congressman Earl Blumenauer and representatives from Gov. Kitzhaber’s office.

John Calhoun, Co-Chair of Equity Alliance Oregon and CEO of InsideValuation, addressed the group highlighting the need to fund the things that allow businesses to be successful: Education and basic infrastructure for businesses and communities.

As an Oregon business leader and CEO for 40-plus years, Calhoun confirmed that large corporations are getting far too many tax breaks and that our state has been balancing our budget on the backs of small businesses and the middle class. He reiterated that only by investing in state infrastructure will Oregon strengthen its business environment by continuing to make Oregon an attractive place to live.

“Our electeds are only hearing part of the story,” Calhoun stated. They hear a symphony of special interest groups and lobbyists who push for special breaks for those who don’t need the help–large corporations and high-income households. As an example, Calhoun pointed out that the legislature began the 2011 session by giving away $93 million in tax breaks to businesses, and closed the session with another tax break for real estate investors that could cost $78 million over five years.

“In the last biennium, tax expenditures in Oregon grew by $3.4 billion. School spending was cut by $200 million,” Calhoun said. “The question is, why are we giving away ANY tax credits while we’re cutting education?”

Gloria McMurty, hostess of the event and 15-year owner of Talking Drum Bookstore, echoed Calhoun’s comments and made the connection for the group by highlighting that tax reform for large corporations would benefit the middle class, which would benefit her customer base.

It’s a pretty simple equation. The only unknown is what action will be taken by elected leaders and the business community at large to build a unified solution. Will they have the political will to listen to the voices of real small businesses and business leaders who won’t spout the usual anti-tax rhetoric? Or will they rely on lobbyists for large corporate interests who claim to speak in their name?

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