Members of small business group stake out positions on issues

Phil Castle, The Business Times: 

Colorado members of a small business advocacy group oppose efforts to impose taxes on services or privatize roads and bridges.

Members of the National Federation of Independent Business in the state also oppose any efforts to make it illegal for employers to discriminate against job applicants who’re unemployed.

Tony Gagliardi
Tony Gagliardi, NFIB

At the same time, NFIB members support a requirement that labor unions obtain permission to use dues for political purposes as well as a reduction in benefits if the unemployment trust fund nears bankruptcy.

The results of a recent survey of NFIB members in Colorado will guide the organization in its lobbying efforts when the legislative session begins in January, said Tony Gagliardi, state director of the group.

In more general terms, Gagliardi said members have told him they want relief from government regulations that have left them reluctant to hire more employees even though economic conditions have slowly improved. “Businesses operate best when they’re left alone,” he said.

Each year, the NFIB polls its members on state and federal issues affecting small businesses to determine its lobbying positions. The group sent ballots to its 7,000 members in Colorado in November, asking them five questions related to the state budget, labor laws, unions and unemployment benefits.

Based on a statistically valid sample of survey results, 90 percent of members who responded to the poll oppose an expansion of the state sales tax on goods to include business and professional services, Gagliardi said.

While such a measure could be used to fill gaps in the state budget, constitutional limitations likely would require voter approval beforehand, he said.

At 60 percent, opposition was less pronounced to efforts to privatize some bridges, highways and tunnels as a way to reduce costs. Gagliardi said there could be more support among members to privatize new transportation projects rather than existing infrastructure.

Meanwhile, 71 percent of owners oppose legislation that would make it illegal for employers to discriminate against unemployed applicants in making hiring decisions.

Gagliardi said the issue has come to the forefront in other states as the duration of unemployment for some applicants stretches to years. At that point, employers must decide whether or not such applicants could require additional training to re-enter the work force, he said.

Moreover, NFIB members remain adamant they retain the right to use whatever criteria they deem necessary in hiring the right applicants, he added.

Members were supportive of two other issues on the ballot, with 88 percent in favor of reforms that would require labor unions to obtain annual written permission from each union member prior to using a portion of their dues for political activities.

At the same time, 85 percent of members support a reduction in maximum weekly unemployment benefits if the unemployment trust fund nears bankruptcy.

The state covers the first 26 weeks of unemployment benefits using money collected from employers. High levels of unemployment in the state in the wake of the recession drained the state fund and forced the state to borrow federal funds to continue to pay benefits. Colorado subsequently assessed some employers additional charges to help pay back the federal loans.

State legislation enacted last year is designed to reform the unemployment trust fund, Gagliardi said. But additional measures could be needed to maintain the solvency of the fund, he said, including an increase in unemployment insurance premiums or a reduction in benefits.

Overall, small business owners remain concerned about economic uncertainty related in part to government regulations, Gagliardi said.

That’s why many owners have put off hiring even though conditions have improved. “They’re scared to hire,” he said.

Gagliardi said he’s hopeful the State Legislature will enact regulatory reforms during the upcoming session, including a proposal that would require an analysis of the effects of regulations on businesses.