Five Questions

By Hannah Wallace June 30, 2008

Last March, Congressman Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., was named ranking member of the House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Finance and Tax. He plans to use that appointment to help give much-needed relief to small businesses in our region.

Why was the House Subcommittee on Finance and Tax formed?

The committee oversees an $80 billion fund under the Small Business Administration. In this economy, banks are very leveraged and under [a lot of] pressure. Small businesses need help in terms of getting capital. If we raise taxes, it hits them harder. Sixty percent to 80 percent of all new jobs are formed through small businesses. They are the job creators; they’re the people that need help, because they help us stay competitive in a global sense.

What are the biggest concerns of small businesses in our region?

Small businesses are under a lot of pressure right now. This area [has been] dependent on real estate and construction, and most big loans were real-estate oriented. The trickle-down [from that] affects lots of others. We need to be doing more to attract a more diverse economy through economic development; I’d like to see us go after more high-tech companies. We want to attract white-collar industries that pay well. We also need to think about what we’re going to do about healthcare—many times companies can’t afford it or can’t get it. The question for small businesses is: salaries or benefits? You can’t have both. Anybody who makes over $75,000 is considered rich—when [Congress] raises taxes, all that income gets taxed and it hits a lot of small businesses. I’ve got to get [Congress] to understand that when they define “rich,” they’re talking about a lot of small businesses, and that impacts the ability to expand and create jobs.

Where are the small business opportunities in our region?

We’ve got a lot of positives, and in the long term, everything is going to be good. Interest rates are historically low—money is almost free. I look at the situation as a great opportunity for a lot of people to buy things at half price. But we’ve got to look at why some businesses are leaving our region. Frankly, a lot of states offer better incentive packages. We’ve also got to find a way to be able to hold down the cost of property insurance—it’s a big issue. Even if you’re leasing, property insurance costs gets passed on to you. And we have an excess inventory challenge—we’ve got to absorb that.

What have you accomplished in Congress so far?

I really do feel I’m a “can-do” guy. There’s $97 million worth of projects in the works: the veterans’ cemetery in Sarasota, the cleanup of Sarasota Bay, money for Mote Marine and New College. It’s been a good year and a half. Regardless of party, we [legislators] try to vote for what we think is in the best interest of the district, the environment and education, for example. It’s bipartisan politics—we work together on the things that matter.

Any predictions on the presidential race?

I can’t imagine it won’t be Obama for the Democratic Party. It’s interesting. I keep telling people it’s going to be exciting. [This year] it’s more competitive, politically. There will be twists and turns on both sides. It’s a wide-open race. —Megan McDonald

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