Ahead of first presidential debate, Main Street speaks out on taxes, regulation

As the first presidential debate kicks off Monday night, uncertainty is more prevalent than ever on Main Street.

Recent data from the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) found political uncertainty at an all-time high for the month of August, while separate data from small-business networking platform Manta found more than one-third of small-business owners say they're still undecided about who to vote for in November.

Part of the reason may be that candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump aren't speaking in detail to issues small-business owners care most about, according to small-business advocates.

Taxes and the regulatory environment are two of Main Street's biggest concerns, according to the NFIB. The conservative lobbying group points out that complying with regulations costs about $11,000 per worker each year for businesses with fewer than 50 employees — nearly 30 percent higher than the cost for larger businesses.

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton
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Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton

Dealing with government regulations is something Rick Snow is all too familiar with. The owner of Maine Indoor Karting in Scarborough, Maine, says just to operate his business he needs eight different licenses through the state and town, because he operates a small cafe inside the go-karting business.

"I have two different food licenses," Snow said. "I have to work with the state and local fire marshal, code enforcement. Each of these costs can be anywhere from $150 to $500 or $600 a year."

But a different regulation coming down the pike this December has Snow more concerned. The U.S. Department of Labor's new overtime rule kicks in on Dec. 1. It will make more than 4 million salaried employees eligible for overtime pay. The finalized rule doubles the eligible salary threshold for overtime from $23,660 per year to $47,476 annually, something that drew criticism from some on Main Street in May when it was finalized.

"That will have a major impact on my salaried employees," said Snow, who has 22 workers. "It's essentially a doubling of everyone's pay. We will have to adjust them to an hourly base that will have a huge impact on my wife, who does our bookkeeping."

For others on Main Street, taxes are in focus heading into November. Michael Stanek, owner of Cleveland Cycle Tours in Cleveland, said he is most concerned with continuity and the ability to plan financially for his seasonal business, which offers group cycling tours on a quadricycle in the city and has 15 part-time employees.

"Late last year, Congress finally took the step of making some of the most important tax extenders, including the Section 179 deduction and the R&D tax credit, permanent," Stanek said. "For that we are thankful, but we need to be careful not to allow ourselves to fall back into that same trap again. There are a number of tax issues that were not made permanent — the work opportunity tax credit and bonus depreciation — that need to be readdressed in the future."

And some, like Jeff Wasden, owner of PROformance Apparel, aren't happy with either candidate's tax proposal. Clinton has focused more on corporate tax reform, while Trump has offered a more simplified tax plan with four brackets for individuals. However, neither candidate has focused in a detailed way on clawing back some of the burden small-business owners face come tax time.

"The tax plans being proposed are very problematic to business and doing more harm than good to the middle class and business owners," said Wasden, whose business screen prints shirts and signs in Littleton, Colorado. The "government needs to stop picking winners and losers. The complexity in our tax code needs to be addressed. Lowering our tax rate would allow us to put more back into our companies and take care of our employees."

Above all, Wasden and many others are hoping for a new era of government that makes it easier to create jobs.

"Like most business owners, we're not here to make a million dollars," he said. "We're here to take care of our families [and] employees and work within the community. We just want a government that will be supportive of a business like ours and that will get out of the way. That will create a regulatory culture that has predictability and certainty."

The Manta poll found that of those business owners who have decided who they're voting for in the presidential election, 40 percent are backing Trump and 24 percent favor Clinton, who is the only one of the two candidates to release a formal small-business plan.