Entrepreneur:Mr. Vice President, your campaign material consistently touts the results of economic growth under the Clinton administration as reason that small businesses should support your candidacy. However, voters will also cast their votes based on how they view the future. What issues do you view as key impediments to small-business growth in the near future? What specific policies do you propose that the country pursue to address these concerns?
Al Gore: Since the Clinton-Gore administration took office in 1993, this nation has enjoyed unprecedented prosperity. We fought hard to maintain fiscal discipline and invested in our people. Together with Americans' hard work, those policies have helped to create over 21 million new jobs, along with historically low unemployment, inflation and interest rates.
I know small businesses and entrepreneurs have been the real motors of our economy. Small businesses and entrepreneurs are responsible for an estimated one-third of America's historic economic growth. Also, small businesses (those with fewer than 500 employees) currently employ 53 percent of the private workforce and account for 47 percent of sales and 51 percent of private sector GDP. You've had a real partner in the Clinton-Gore Administration. The Administration has worked with the Small Business Administration to guarantee $59 billion in loans to small businesses, more than the previous 12 years combined. And the results are telling. Under the Clinton-Gore administration, small-business incomes have increased by 14.2 percent, vs. falling by 1 percent during the Bush administration.
But we can do more to give small business the kind of sustained attention necessary to ensure continued growth. As president, I will work harder than ever to strengthen and create new opportunities for entrepreneurship. To help small businesses prosper, my strategy will focus on helping small businesses gain access to capital and technical assistance and creating unlimited possibilities for small-business success, while continuing to streamline the regulatory process.
To begin, I believe that the right policies can help open more doors for small businesses. I want to facilitate the use of the Specialized Small Business Investment Company Tax Credit and double the New Markets Tax Credit to help small businessmen and women gain access to needed capital. I think it is smart policy to help small business obtain secure domestic loans. I plan to make sure that the SBA guarantees up to 80 percent of a loan made by a lender to creditworthy small businesses that cannot otherwise secure financing on reasonable terms. I also intend to continue opening new markets for small-business exporters. We can do that through granting more international trade loans and bolstering the SBA's Export Working Capital Program. Further, I want to ensure small businesses are not left behind due to momentary capital flow difficulty. Through the SBA's Y2K Action Loans and DELTA loans, we can alleviate these temporary burdens.
We can also continue to provide tax cuts and other financial incentives to encourage the development of small businesses in traditionally disadvantaged areas. Efforts such as Empowerment Zones and the New Markets Initiative are working, and I will fight to expand and implement funding for them. And I want to explore new strategies to help these risk-takers to connect into their larger local and regional economies.
I also want to help keep small businesses on the cutting edge of high technology. As president, I will work to grant more Technology Transfer awards and expand the Innovation Research Program for high-tech small-business research and development. We also need to assist small business in transferring over to technology-based operations. That is why I will continue to support the SBA's Community Express program, directing loans, technical and management assistance to businesses in New Markets areas.
We can also help by creating more opportunity for small businesses, starting by bringing together every sector of the business community, large and small. I want to expand the innovative BusinessLINC, which allows entrepreneurs and small businesses to better work with larger businesses to expand investment. I also intend to offer small businesses more bid opportunities for federal government contracts.
We have made great strides through the SBA's HUB Zone-Empowerment Contracting Program, and as president, I will ensure that we strengthen it. I want to give more managerial aid and other assistance to new small businesses by greatly upgrading Microenterprise Lending and Technical Assistance and the SBA's Business Development Centers, One-Stop Shops and Individual Development Accounts.
Small businesses also need a regulatory environment that does not create undue compliance burdens, while protecting consumers, workers and [the] environment. Over the last eight years, we have made good progress and worker related injuries are at an all time low. As president, I will build on recent successes and direct OSHA to continue seeking ways to improve employee health and safety, with little cost or confusion to small businesses. I will also continue to ease the tax burden on small business - including by increasing the estate tax exemption for small businesses. In the process, we can create greater business incentives and encourage more small business investment.
Small-business entrepreneurship is the backbone of the American Dream. Entrepreneurs put Americans to work. By putting the right policies in place today, we can help protect our current prosperity and extend it well into the 21st Century.
Entrepreneur:In your health-care announcement last September, you mentioned that small businesses should be able to band together to purchase health insurance in pools. You also proposed that businesses joining these pools should receive "special tax benefits and grants." Please elaborate on how these purchasing pools would operate and what sort of tax breaks small businesses would receive.
Gore: America has far too many people without health insurance. I have laid out a detailed, step-by-step plan to move toward our goal of universal health insurance, starting with children. One component of that plan is to help small business provide health care for their employees.
Small businesses typically pay higher premiums for benefits, and administrative costs may consume as much as 40 percent of premium dollars. To counter this excessive burden, I have proposed an initiative to give small firms that offer health insurance a tax credit equal to 25 percent of their contribution towards health insurance obtained through purchasing coalitions. These health insurance pools allow small businesses to join together in order to purchase insurance policies at a reduced price.
Further, I would provide tax incentives for foundations to help pay for start-up costs of purchasing coalitions and direct the Federal Employees' Health Benefits Program to make technical assistance available to these coalitions. Above all, this process not only saves money, but helps move toward our goal of universal health coverage for all Americans.
Entrepreneur:Small businesses consistently cite the shortage of skilled labor as a major problem. They view part of that problem as related to worker education but lack consensus on the proper approach to rectifying the situation. What specifically would you do to improve the preparation of students coming out of high school? How do you propose to improve continuing education for existing workers?
Gore: In my opinion, education is a top national priority requiring national leadership. To properly train tomorrow's workforce, we must give students a world-class education today. Consequently, I believe that parents and government should work together to bring revolutionary improvements to our public schools, which educate over 90 percent of our children. Parents have a responsibility to make sure their children study and learn. Government needs to meet its responsibility by fixing failing schools, establishing high standards for students and teachers, and stop wasting money on bureaucracy and put it in smaller class sizes.
My plan would demand higher standards from our schools, teachers and students, while investing in the tools they need to success. I will start by creating an Education Reform Trust Fund to increase our national investment in education by over 50 percent. The fund will support programs to help every child in our public schools reach high standards as our schools meet increased demand. I will focus on early education-making high-quality, voluntary preschool available to every 4-year-old, expanding funding for Head Start and Early Head Start, and helping families pay for child care. My plan will lower class sizes and ensure a qualified teacher in every classroom by helping to recruit and train one million talented new teachers over the next decade. I will provide tax incentives to help states build and modernize crumbling school buildings to assure our students can attend schools that are modern, safe, and well equipped for learning. I will finish wiring every classroom to the Internet and train students and teachers to use information technology to individualize learning and bridge the digital divide. My goal is to ensure all students are computer literate by the 8th grade.
But investment alone is not enough. To revolutionize education, we must also raise standards and demand strict accountability for results. My plan treats teachers like the professionals they are-holding them to high standards, requiring every new teacher to be qualified in his or her subject area, and helping find faster, fair ways to identify and improve, or when necessary remove, failing teachers. My plan demands more from students-encouraging states to develop high school completion exams, in order to ensure that every student leaves school with the skills he or she needs to succeed. And my plan demands more from schools. We cannot tolerate failing schools. My plan will require states and school districts to identify failing schools and put in place an aggressive plan to turn those schools around. To encourage public school choice, my plan would triple publicly-accountable charter schools, and require schools to issue performance report cards to help parents select the school best-suited to their child's needs and hold schools accountable.
I believe we must help students afford higher education and individuals upgrade their skills for the new economy. I have proposed new lifelong learning "401(j) Accounts" that would allow employers and individuals to put money away for qualified higher education expenses, tax-free. These accounts would let a person save for job training, education and lifelong learning, and let those savings grow tax-free. I have also proposed a College Opportunity Tax Cut, which would make up to $10,000 in tuition tax-deductible in order to make college, graduate school, and courses taken for a job more affordable.
Education is vital to ensuring that small businesses have the highly skilled workforce they need in order to compete. However, I recognize that, in today's tight labor markets, small businesses are currently suffering from a shortage of highly skilled workers. To adequately address this short-term predicament, we need to expand the administration's proposal to increase the number of H-1B visas to 200,000 per year, while enacting significant new provisions to protect and prepare the U.S. workforce and providing measures of fairness and equity for certain immigrants already in the U.S.
Today, the challenge of education is more important than ever. If we are to build on our prosperity and ensure that America's small businesses have a quality, educated workforce, we must act with precision and vigor. Only then, can we begin to help others truly realize their fullest potential.
Entrepreneur:Even though small businesses lack workers, they've been noticeably reluctant to tap two pools of potential workers: the long-term unemployed and the disabled. Is there a role for government in encouraging small businesses to hire these individuals? What policies, if any, would you propose to encourage small businesses to hire them as workers?
Gore: Today, approximately 30 million working-age adults with disabilities and approximately 75 percent of people with significant disabilities are unemployed or underemployed. I believe we must begin with an aggressive national policy to bring adults with disabilities into gainful employment. It is a smart, cost-saving method to help small businesses, and it is the right thing to do.
To begin, I have launched a new Disability-to-Work Initiative to encourage small-business public-private partnerships to hire people with disabilities, give people with disabilities the skills and technology they need to enter into the workforce, and share best practices. It will also work with nonprofit technology resource centers and businesses to make sure that youth with disabilities are ready for work. I am also working to act on the recommendations of the President's Task Force on the Employment of Adults with Disabilities, to break down barriers to fuller participation in the workplace. Just recently, I announced the creation of a new Disability Research Institute to develop innovative new return-to-work strategies.
The Clinton-Gore Administration came to office in 1993 promising to "end welfare as we know it." And we have. Welfare rolls have been cut by over half, and millions of former welfare recipients are gainfully employed. But we should also recognize that there are still welfare recipients who need help in finding long-term employment. To help integrate these people into the new economy--and to help small businesses in this tight labor market--I want to expand the welfare-to-work tax credit to encourage businesses to hire and retain people off the welfare roles. Small businesses would continue to receive a tax credit equal to 35 percent of first $10,000 in wages for the first year a welfare recipient is hired, and 50 percent of the first $10,000 in wages for the second year. I also want to take the next step in welfare reform-promoting responsible fatherhood. As we have asked mothers to move from welfare to work, all sectors of society have risen to the challenge. Now, we must help and ensure "dead-broke dads," find an opportunity to gain employment and fulfill their obligation to support their families.
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