Today we start a new column on policy issues by the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC).
Voluntary corporate sustainability initiatives and social enterprises are essential, but are not game changers by themselves. In addition, we need laws and regulations that guide our economy toward sound, long-term decision-making, with full recognition of social and environmental externalities. This column will arm readers with information and specific actions to take. As business leaders, we can and must support policy change to help make the economy more sustainable. Here are three important policies to consider supporting.
Increase local public funding by making sales tax collection fairer for Main Street retailers
State tax policy is currently hurting responsible businesses and their communities. In states that have retail sales taxes, there is an exemption for online and catalog retailers located elsewhere. This deprives local communities of much needed revenue for schools and public infrastructure improvements. The exemption also puts brick and mortar Main Street businesses at a competitive disadvantage.
A bipartisan effort is underway to address this problem. The U.S. Senate has a bill called The Marketplace Fairness Act (SB 1812). It will give states the authority to have all businesses collect these taxes on sales in the state, just like local retailers are required to do.
What’s at stake
Senate staffers estimate that states and localities are forfeiting $23 billion in lost tax revenues. That’s additional funding to pay for teachers, firefighters and bridges that make local communities economically sustainable.
And, Main Street businesses struggling to compete against low-cost, high-volume internet firms will benefit. Under the bill, states will be required to simplify their tax collection process. This will help businesses with a requirement that states have just one agency administer all sales and use tax laws. Even better, the bill requires that states consolidate all business taxes into one tax return.
A possible exemption for internet and catalog sellers with less than $1,000,000 in annual nationwide sales would keep these new rules from hurting smaller companies.
What you can do
- Learn more about The Marketplace Fairness Act.
- Support the bill. Sign onto this campaign now as the bill is making its way through Congress.
Wanted: Farm bill to increase innovation and address climate change
Congress’s inability to pass a new five-year farm bill this year has brought a dozen of the most innovative, forward-looking farm bill programs to an abrupt halt. It also squashes a major opportunity to address climate change.
In farming, as in all industries, innovation is a vital pathway to sustainability. And yet, subsidies to status quo, large-scale commodity production, and lack of support for new farmer programs, threaten the innovation we so desperately need.
What’s at stake
As examples, consider two programs that help new agricultural producers, the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program and the Outreach and Assistance to Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers Program. The programs enable community-based organizations and educational institutions to provide and strengthen local training and assistance efforts that support new farmers and ranchers. During the past three to four years, they have delivered over $100 million in funding through more than 300 grants to community groups and universities to support new farmers and ranchers as well as those from communities of color, first nation’s people and military veterans.
The farm bill is not only the centerpiece of United States food and agriculture policy, it is also a de facto climate bill. Unfortunately, the current versions fail to address this issue. Instead, they maintain agriculture’s large climate footprint, mainly by continuing to direct subsidies toward a mere handful of commodity crops. The “big five” — wheat, rice, soybeans, cotton and, above all, corn — have received 84 percent of subsidies since 2004.
What you can do
- Call your Senator and Congressional Representatives and urge them to move forward with a one-year extension of the old bill or a full five-year bill. Tell Congress to support programs that support new farmers, healthy food and climate-smart agriculture.
- Join the campaign to pass a sustainable farm bill.
Toward a sustainable federal income tax
From better regulation to investments in renewables, many of the things we need to grow businesses of the future depend on government funding. In other words, taxes. And, in what’s becoming a classic case of old-line businesses aligning against a future that’s sustainable, the Bush-era tax cuts have become a crucial battleground.
Proponents claim that letting the high-end portion expire would kill jobs, but the Congressional Research Service, Congress’s non-partisan research arm, reported recently that over the last 65 years there has been no measurable linkage between tax cuts and job creation or economic growth. Instead, this package of federal income tax cuts has ballooned the deficit and reduced available funding for crucial public investments in programs and services to move our economy forward.
What’s at stake
The additional revenue from ending the cuts on the top 2 percent of incomes (over $200,000 for individuals, or $250,000 for couples) would total nearly $1 trillion over ten years. It could go toward making necessary – and long overdue – investments in job creation, education, health, renewable energy, transportation, and other infrastructure.
Currently, the Bush-era tax cuts are part of the fiscal showdown discussions in Washington.
What you can do
Congress and the President need to restore the balanced, pro-growth tax structure we had under Clinton, when growth was robust and government ran a surplus.
- Sign the business letter and ask your business friends and colleagues to do the same.
- Call your U.S. Senators and Representative to urge them to end the Bush tax cuts for the top 2 percent of incomes and extend the middle-class tax cuts.
Policy Points is produced by the American Sustainable Business Council. The editor is Richard Eidlin, Director – Public Policy and Business Engagement.