Sen. Snowe Details Her Plan for Small Business

The new chair of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship has big plans for small business. Find out what might be in store.

By Devlin Smith

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

In January, Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (R-ME) became chair of theSenate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship. Inaddition to her work with small business, Snowe, who hasrepresented Maine in the Senate since 1994 and spent 16 years as amember of the House of Representatives, also sits on the SelectCommittee on Intelligence; the Committee on Commerce, Science &Transportation; and the Committee on Finance. We corresponded withSnowe via e-mail about her plans to help small-business ownersacross the country during the course of her post.

Why did you want to be chair of the Senate Committee on SmallBusiness and Entrepreneurship?

Sen. Olympia J. Snowe: The small-business sector plays aparticularly central role in Maine's economy, as it does in thenation's economy as a whole. In short, it is the economiclifeblood of my state. Of Maine's 37,000 employers, about 97percent are small businesses with fewer than 20 employees, andthese businesses account for the creation of virtually every newjob. Entrepreneurship also prospers in Maine, with an estimated73,000 self-employed workers.

Nationally, small businesses are the most successful tool wehave for job creation, providing roughly 67 percent of initial jobopportunities in the country. I think it's fair to say thatsmall businesses serve as our original, and finest, job trainingprogram, and that's an important role to play in ournation's economy.

What are the major issues you see facing small businessestoday?

Snowe: Assuring access to affordable health insurance forsmall businesses and their employees, including farmers, fishermenand entrepreneurs; creating more jobs and opportunities forworkers; providing regulatory and tax relief for small businesses;helping small businesses enter foreign markets so they can expandand grow; encouraging further growth and entrepreneurship inwomen-owned small businesses; improving access to capital for smallbusinesses; increasing access to and utilization of newtechnologies and e-commerce by small businesses; and assuringimproved availability of worker education and training.

How do you hope to help business owners face thoseissues?

Snowe: As chair of the committee, I take pride in itsclose contact and constant dialogue with small-business owners fromall across the country. First and foremost, we make it our missionto play the role of watchdog over federal policies affecting smallbusinesses. In many cases, highlighting problems through hearingsor other committee activities will lead to a correction ofproblems. Since our jurisdiction to review federal policiesaffecting small businesses is very broad, we often can work withagencies to find solutions and relief without enactinglegislation.

However, when legislation is required to solve a problem outsidethe committee's jurisdiction, such as a health-care or taxmatter, it is not unusual for any of our members to introduce abill independently and to seek support from other senators whoserve on the appropriate committees with jurisdiction to change thelaw.

What are your immediate goals for your position and thecommittee?

Snowe: The Senate Committee on Small Business andEntrepreneurship has begun work on a major reauthorization of thesmall-business assistance programs administered by the SBA. As partof this process, the committee will carefully review a range ofprograms, from the 7(a) Guaranteed Loan Program to the SmallBusiness Innovation Research Program to the HUBZone Program fordistressed communities. The reauthorization will enable us todetermine whether the SBA's programs are operating efficientlyand in the best interest of small-business owners. If needed, thecommittee can and will make specific changes to these programs inorder to better serve the small-business community. At the sametime, as chair of the committee I will be working to ensure thatthe small-business sector is not left behind as Congress works toget the economy growing again.

What are your long-term goals?

Snowe: I have introduced S.158, the Small BusinessExpensing Improvement Act of 2003, to free up capital and empowersmall firms to make investments that will help rebuild the economyand create new jobs. I am extremely pleased that the administrationhas heard the pleas of small businesses for greater expensing andis supporting this change in the tax code.

S.158 would triple the current expensing limit to $75,000 andbroaden the phase-out of that provision. Moreover, it would achievetwo important objectives: Qualifying businesses will be able towrite off more of their equipment purchases immediately, instead ofwaiting five, seven or more years to recover their costs throughdepreciation. Additionally, more businesses will qualify for thisbenefit because the phase-out limit will be increased from thecurrent $200,000 to $325,000 in new equipment purchases.

As a member of the Senate Finance Committee, I am encouragingour chairman, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), to expedite considerationof S.158, and I hope it will be included in the growth package thatwe expect the Senate to take up this spring. What this bill meansfor the small-business sector is substantial savings in both moneyand time spent complying with complex depreciation rules in the taxcode. Additionally, new equipment put in place as a result of thisrelief will contribute to renewed growth in productivity, which isessential to the long-term vitality of our economy.

Recently you introduced the Independent Office of AdvocacyAct of 2003, S.818. What does this bill entail?

Snowe: S.818 is a bill to establish a clear mandate thatthe Office of Advocacy must fight on behalf of small businesses,regardless of the position taken by the president or theadministration by:

  • Requiring the federal budget to include a separate account forthe Office of Advocacy, rather than drawing funds from the generaloperating account of the SBA, which will free the Chief Counsel forAdvocacy from the current requirement to seek approval from the SBAAdministrator to hire staff; and
  • Providing that any funds appropriated for the Office ofAdvocacy will remain available without fiscal-year limitation untilthey are expended. This change will give the chief counsel theflexibility to preserve precious funds by carrying budgetallocations from one fiscal year to the next, while ensuring thatfunds are spent only for work critical to the Office ofAdvocacy's mission.

Recently you asked for a funding boost for HUBZones(Historically Underutilized Business Zones). Why is this animportant issue for yourself and small businesses?

Snowe: Although the federal government has numerouseconomic development programs, the HUBZone Program is unique amongthem because it directs federal contracting dollars to thenation's most distressed areas of high poverty and highunemployment. Under the HUBZone Program, the government acts as acustomer, buying goods and services from small firms that havelocated in HUBZones and hired at least 35 percent of theiremployees from HUBZone areas.

Unfortunately, consistent underfunding has threatened theHUBZone Program's ability to meet its intended goals. AlthoughCongress has authorized annual funding for the HUBZone Programranging from $5 million to $10 million since Fiscal Year 1998,actual appropriations have never exceeded $2 million annually.Boosting HUBZone funding to $5 million would enable the SBA toprovide better outreach to additional firms and additional HUBZonecommunities.

Rekindling economic growth will be difficult unless the federalgovernment helps stimulate the small-business sector. Sacrificingfunds for programs like HUBZones will only slow the economicrecovery we all seek and hurt the very communities that face thebiggest obstacles on the road to recovery.

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