You might say the economic stimulus bill currently before the Congress represents the best thinking by Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill.
It’s a combination of old fashioned prime the pump spending plans with Kennedy-Reagan era tax cuts to give the public more money. On top of that, banks and large auto makers have gotten federal subsidies, tax breaks and loan guarantees to help keep them solvent.
But what if it doesn’t work? The biggest problem I can see with the stimulus plan is that it doesn’t put more dollars in the hands of small businesses — the roughly 6 million companies that account for half the workforce and 50 percent to 80 percent of all new jobs.
Granted it’s hard for the government to write a check to a company. It’s far easier to reduce limits for SBA-guaranteed loans or provide some soft-dollar incentives to small-business finance organizations. There’s also the problem that many of us, yours truly included, would spurn the kind of strings that have been attached to banks accepting bailout money.
But there are some things that are fairly simple that could be very effective in generating job growth. Here are a few of them:
• Reimburse city and county governments so that Main Street firms don’t have to pay business improvement district taxes for a year or two. This is extremely important for local retailers who face unfair competition from big box stores that get gazillions of dollars in tax breaks from special taxing areas that receive Tax Increment Financing Funds or TIFF.
• Let the government underwrite most of the cost for health-care premiums for employees hired since January. Health care costs are big barriers to small businesses looking to expand. This big perk that would encourage companies to pay benefits to all workers. The Obama administration has proposed something like this via tax credits, but my wrinkle would be to have the companies not pay the premiums at all but have the insurance providers collect the premiums from the government.
• A micro grant in the form of a $5,000 credit or charge acount for any small business that wants to upgrade hardware or software. This will increase productivity at small companies and stimulate the tech sector all at the same time and at modest cost to the taxpayer. This could easily be accomplished with a one page online application for a grant that could trigger a special credit account at a manufacturer such as Dell, Apple or HP or an office products retailer.