Engaging politicians during election season

The General Assembly concluded its regular session in dramatic fashion as legislators pulled an all-nighter to pass a budget and other legislation.

Democrats praised and Republicans derided the budget. The overall response to the Springfield session was predictably partisan.

Republicans were heavily critical, arguing the tax breaks passed by the democrats were only temporary in nature and passed for political purposes. Democrats, who hold a supermajority in the General Assembly, argued their budget was fiscally sound and provides important tax relief to working families.

Politicians have left Springfield in their rearview mirror, and campaign season is upon us. There will be lots of fundraisers. Politicians will send emails asking for urgent contributions.

Big money will be spent on races across the state. Negative ads will permeate through traditional media outlets and find prominence on social media platforms.

The small business community must be engaged and highly active during this campaign. To be effective, small business advocates will need to parse through over-the-top commercials, hyperbole and distractions to determine which politicians truly value small businesses and policies that support them.

The starting point is to identify the issues that matter most to small businesses and entrepreneurs. Leveling the playing field and reducing red tape are consistently top priorities.

Once the most pressing small business issues are identified, specific policies must be formulated to support small businesses. Politicians should be asked to take clear positions on whether they support these policies and if elected, be taken to task should they break their promises. Putting candidates on the record is an integral way to push legislation forward when lawmakers return to Springfield.

Candidates can be asked to take positions at candidate forums, meet-and-greets, train stations and when knocking on their constituents' doors. They can be asked through questionnaires and surveys with the results being published on social media.

Business organizations can share candidate questionnaires with their supporters. Local media can partner with the small business community to disseminate the positions taken by candidates.

The SBAC team will be asking candidates to take positions on legislation that will supplement the workforce so that small businesses struggling to hire can find qualified employees. We will ask why tax incentives seem to favor larger enterprises and whether they will support legislation that levels the playing field.

We will ask whether legislators will commit to cutting red tape through occupational licensing reform. The small business community scored a significant win on occupational licensing reform this past session and policymakers should build on that momentum. The SBAC will ask legislators to affirmatively represent they will work across the aisle on property tax reform before more businesses are forced to close because they simply cannot afford their property taxes.

The pandemic has highlighted the need for small business owners and advocates to speak with a strong and unified voice. This is especially important during elections. The best way for small businesses to make their voices heard this spring is to enter the political arena and secure concrete commitments from candidates.

Through speaking with a strong, organized and unified voice, small businesses can have a profound impact on this election.

• Elliot Richardson is co-founder and president of the Small Business Advocacy Council.

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