Washington, D.C. – The president's $2.9 trillion FY 2008 budget landed on Capitol Hill with a thud.
As anticipated, it was met with skepticism from Democratic leaders. In general, they scoffed at the budget's funding priorities as well as its revenue projections.
Over the next couple of weeks, Hill staffers and special interests will comb through every line of the budget. After all, a budget this size includes thousands upon thousands of pages of minutia. In many cases you have to dig deep to find what you're looking for, and that includes provisions that impact small business.
Regarding the budget's more publicized elements; it calls for making permanent the key tax relief measures passed by Congress. This is welcome news in the small business community, but the probability of advancement remains slim. Given new "pay-as-you-go" rules, and the Democrat's general view that lower personal income tax rates and cuts in capital gains and death taxes are sops to the rich, small firms will just have to plan around this uncertainty. That means planning for the worse.
On health coverage, the president's budget includes sound approaches that reform the tax code with a standard deduction for health insurance. The employer-favored system has been an inequitable one for individuals and the self-employed. The proposed changes enable fair access to health coverage for individuals and families. The budget reasserts its support for national small business pooling plans and the creation of a nationwide marketplace for health plans, which allows individuals to buy insurance from outside their state of residence.
Throughout the document, the president's support for expanding global trade agreements is clear, as well as a commitment to protecting small business intellectual property at home and abroad. In the budget, fees generated from patent applications submitted to the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) actually get used to support the office, rather than being tossed into the general revenue bucket. Addressing this fee diversion provides the PTO with increased resources to improve patent processing and quality. Small businesses in particular benefit from a more efficient and improved patent system.
Over at the Small Business Administration (SBA), the budget proposes a 40 percent increase in small business financing. The $28 billion loan package is made up of a 27 percent increase in the 7(a) loan program ($17.5 billion); a 32 percent increase in 504 loans ($7.5 billion); and $3 billion for Small Business Investment Corporation debentures. Fees have been reduced for the loans, which mean lower costs for accessing capital through the SBA loan program.
The "Hold Onto Your Wallet" Part
Like any budget, the plan must raise revenues. Yes, the president still plans to collect all of our federal tax liabilities. However, there are other ways the federal government generates cash. The administration is on a revenue hunt, and this is where small firms and the self-employed could feel the pinch.
Let's start with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) budget. In addition to proposed budget increases for enforcement, audits and investigations of small business and self-employed taxpayers, new initiatives could add to paperwork and compliance burdens – thus, costs for small businesses. Primarily, these efforts aim to improve compliance – that is, the IRS' wants to find under-reported or non-reported income. More third-party reporting is viewed by the agency as the best way to identify and capture income that otherwise may not be paid by taxpayers.
For example, a newly proposed Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN) verification system would require contractors receiving payments of $600 or more (in a calendar year) from a business to provide that business with his or her "certified" TIN. The business would then have to verify the TIN with the IRS. If the contractor's TIN number is not verifiable, or accurate, and if the business decides to work with the contractor anyway, they would be responsible for withholding a percentage of gross payments. Other than the fact that this is a legislative proposal which the IRS would like to see approved, there is no mention of how it would be constructed, rules for use or whether there would be a fee to verify TINs.
Other IRS proposals aimed at improving compliance include: a requirement that businesses file an information return for yearly payments to corporations of $600 or more; reporting by merchant acquiring banks of gross payments received by small businesses from payment cards; basis reporting on security sales; and an expansion of broker information reporting, among other proposals. The IRS estimates that these proposals will generate $29 billion over ten years if implemented.
If your company owns or leases an aircraft for business purposes, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is reconfiguring the current excise tax financing system, which could mean a higher fuel tax and new user fees. Critics claim the existing system works just fine, and raises enough revenue to meet current needs and future modernization plans. The costs associated with the new financing scheme may disproportionately harm the "small guys" in the industry while cutting the big airline carriers a break, according to small business advocates.
Yes, it's all in the details. As officials in Washington painstakingly digs through the bowels of the budget proposal, you can bet there will be more news to come. Hopefully, more good news than bad in the days ahead.
Karen Kerrigan is president & CEO of the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council, a research and advocacy group based in Washington, D.C. that works to protect small business and promote entrepreneurship. She is also founder of Women Entrepreneurs, Inc. , an association helping women business owners succeed through education, networking and advocacy. Kerrigan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .