Former President Ronald Reagan once said that government's view of the economy is ... "If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it."
Sometimes his humorous observation feels painfully serious.
One example is the Cost of Government Day. The Cost of Government Day is that day of the year (woo-hoo!) "on which the average American worker has earned enough gross income to pay off his or her share of spending and regulatory burdens imposed by government."
As of about a week ago (July 16, 2008) those of you in the United States have earned enough to pay for your government.
That means you had to work 197 days just to pay for government (state, Federal and local). The Cost of Government Day took 4 days longer than last year to get here. What this chart shows is that the regulatory burden and government spending have been ratcheting up since 2001, pushing the Cost of Government Day later and later.
Cost of Government Day is not to be confused with Tax Freedom Day. Tax Freedom Day occurred this year on April 23, 2008 and is the day on which Americans are finished paying their tax burden for the year. They are two different calculations -- Cost of Government Day calculates the cost of regulations and government spending whereas Tax Freedom Day measures payment of taxes.
Although taxes and government regulations/spending are separate issues, they are also related, of course. More regulations and more government spending require more taxes to pay for them.
So maybe it isn't surprising that in the NFIB's survey last month of the top priorities and problems affecting small business owners, that 5 of the top 10 priorities involved taxes or regulatory burden. The 10 top issues of concern to small businesses currently included:
-Federal Taxes on Business Income
-Property Taxes (Real, Inventory, or Personal Property)
-Unreasonable Government Regulations
-State Taxes on Business Income
Rounding out the NFIB's survey of the top 10 problems and concerns were: cost of health insurance (the number 1 issue -- no surprise); cost of fuel; cost of supplies/inventories; electricity rates; and workers compensation.
By comparison, the least critical problems included exporting; access to high-speed Internet; obtaining long-term and short-term business loans; government contracting; competition from Internet businesses; competition from imported products; and illegal aliens. In all, the survey covered 75 issues and is quite detailed (a 132-page report).
Notice a trend? The key issues of concern for small businesses are all matters of cost -- and government-related costs constitute half of the top 10.
You might have thought that your small business owner peers would be more concerned by lack of opportunities, or perhaps the existence of competition they consider unfair, or even the access to credit and loans. However, those don't rise to the same level of concern as anything that requires opening the checkbook.
Margins in many small businesses can be thin to begin with. In times when taxes and regulatory burden get high, you can feel like a tuna caught in a tankful of piranha, being gnawed and noshed to death.