Small-business owners lean red

Alex Gary

Joe Wurzelbacher met Sen. Barack Obama during a campaign stop in Toledo, Ohio, a few days before the final debate between presidential candidates Obama and Sen. John McCain.

He was hoping to buy a plumbing company that made as much as $280,000 a year, he told the Illinois Democrat. Would Obama’s proposal increase his taxes, he wondered.

Obama said it would, but defended his policies.

“It’s not that I want to punish your success. I just want to make sure that everybody who is behind you, that they’ve got a chance at success, too,” Obama said.

In a world of 24-hour news, there are no innocent encounters. Within days, it was discovered Wurzelbacher wasn’t a licensed plumber, was a registered Republican and in all likelihood would receive a tax cut under Obama’s budget plan because the business he wanted to buy didn’t make nearly as much as he said.

Still, McCain, R-Ariz., mentioned Joe the Plumber no less than a dozen times during the last debate as an example of a small-business owner who would pay more taxes under President Obama.

But if nothing else, Joe helped focus the final few weeks of the presidential race on the plight of the small-business owner.

No one in the U.S. believes McCain can win Illinois — Obama’s home state, with heavily Democratic Chicago dominating the landscape — so the state’s 21 electoral votes almost certainly will go to the Illinois senator. But if a very unscientific small-business owner poll conducted by the Rockford Register Star was to decide it, it would be a different story. McCain was favored by 50 percent of the respondents, with 33 percent for Obama and 17 percent undecided.

McCain’s backers almost all focused on concerns over business taxes — the very issue McCain used Joe the Plumber to illustrate.

“He has more experience than Obama, and I believe he will keep taxes lower and be more supportive of the needs of small business,” said Jane Fluegel, owner of Northern Illinois Aqua Dogs in Machesney Park, which provides rehabilitative swimming therapy for injured dogs.

“One of many reasons why (I’ll be voting for McCain) is because of taxes,” wrote Andrew Leatherby, owner of Alpine Softener Corp. “I believe he will keep them in line with what President Bush has done.”

Ken Anderson, owner of Anderson Professional Carpentry in Machesney Park, cited McCain’s military service.

“I think this is important and critical for the ‘commander (in) chief,’ ” Anderson wrote before turning back to taxes. “Traditionally, the Republicans support small business much better than the Democrats.”

And Perry Randall, a financial adviser in Caledonia, cited Obama’s pro-choice stance.

“One of the most important issues to me has most to do with McCain’s convictions about the value of the life of an unborn baby,” Randall wrote.

Obama backers pointed to the economic crisis as the reason to vote for Obama.

“The last eight years have clearly shown that you cannot have freedoms without governance,” wrote Cindy Karnitz, owner of Tango K Design in Rockford, an independent artist boutique. “If you give people too much freedom, they will only hurt themselves — see the mortgage/banking industry as an example.”

Brett Fraser, owner of BeachWatch LLC, which oversees Olson Beach at Rock Cut State Park in Loves Park, said Democratic presidents have a better track record of pulling the country out of recessions.

“Obama’s tax plan would help the working class, self-employed and small-business owners the most, whereas McCain’s tax plan is focused on corporations and millionaires.”

Susan Alban Sunday, who operates Dating Solutions, which matches singles through one-on-one selective connections, had a more personal reason to vote for Obama.

“He represents the hope for a new and positive United States and world for all people, especially the middle and lower classes.”

Alex Gary can be reached or at (815) 987-1339.

On the issues

The National Federation of Independent Business does not endorse candidates for president. Instead, the organization, which was founded in 1943 to help entrepreneurs start and grow small businesses, breaks down the key issues for small-business owners.

Health care

Employer-mandated requirements to offer health care

Obama: Will mandate employers to offer “meaningful” coverage or contribute a percentage of payroll toward the costs of the public plan. Small businesses will be exempt from this mandate. Obama’s proposal does not define a “small business.” 

McCain: None. Opposes mandates for coverage. 

Premium assistance/tax changes for the purchase of health insurance

Obama: Small businesses would be eligible for a refundable tax credit of up to 50 percent of premiums paid on behalf of their employees if an employer pays a “meaningful share” of the cost of “a quality health plan.” Obama’s plan does not define “meaningful” or “quality.” Obama would make federal income-related subsidies available to help individuals buy the new public plan or other qualified private insurance plans. 

McCain: Reform the tax code to eliminate the exclusion of the value of health-insurance plans offered by employers from workers’ taxable income. McCain would provide a refundable tax credit of up to $2,500 (individuals) and $5,000 (families) to all individuals and families for the purchase of insurance. 


Obama: Create a National Health Insurance Exchange through which individuals could purchase the new public plan or qualified private insurance plans. Participating insurers would be required to offer coverage on a guaranteed-issue basis, charge a fair and stable premium that is not based on health status, and meet standards for quality and efficiency. 

McCain: Will work with states to create a federally supported guaranteed-access plan to insure patients who have been denied access to health coverage. One approach would establish a nonprofit corporation that would contract with insurers and could join with other state plans to enlarge pools and lower overhead costs.

Tax issues

Current tax rates

Obama: Will reverse most of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts. Will provide 150 million workers with tax relief through a “Making Work Pay” tax credit of up to $500 per person ($1,000 per working family). 

McCain: Would extend the lower-income tax rates passed in 2001 and 2003. McCain believes that in order to raise taxes, a three-fifths majority vote should be required in Congress. 

Corporate income tax

Obama: Will eliminate special-interest loopholes and deductions, such as those for the oil and gas industry. 

McCain: Will reduce the federal corporate tax rate to 25 percent from 35 percent. He believes the taxes imposed on American companies should be no higher than the average rate our major trading partners impose on theirs. 

Social Security payroll tax

Obama: Will ask those making more than $250,000 a year to contribute more to Social Security via the payroll tax system. The Social Security payroll tax applies to only the first $102,000 a worker makes. 

McCain: Does not support raising taxes; supports supplementing Social Security with personal accounts. 

Environment issues

Investment in renewable and clean energy sources

Obama: Will invest $150 billion over 10 years to advance the next generation of biofuels and fuel infrastructure, accelerating the commercialization of plug-in hybrids, promoting development of commercial-scale renewable energy, investing in low-emissions coal plants and beginning the transition to a new smart-energy grid. A principal focus will ensure that domestically developed products are commercialized and deployed around the globe. Will double federal science and research funding for clean-energy projects and invest in the development of biofuels.

McCain: Will commit $2 billion annually to advancing clean coal technologies. Once commercialized, the U.S. can export the technology to other countries like China. Believes alcohol-based fuels hold great promise as an alternative to gasoline and as a means of expanding consumers’ choices.

Labor issues

Card check

Obama: Voted in support of cloture on H.R. 800, the Employee Free Choice Act, which would allow unions to organize more easily by removing the secret ballot in organizing drives and mandating compulsory arbitration. “Obama believes that workers should have the freedom to choose whether to join a union without harassment or intimidation from their employers. Obama ... is a strong advocate for the Employee Free Choice Act, a bipartisan effort to assure that workers can exercise their right to organize,” according to his Web site.

McCain: Voted against cloture for H.R. 800. Co-sponsor of S. 1312, the Secret Ballot Protection Act, which would require a secret ballot election for union organizing drives.

Paid leave

Obama: Co-sponsor of S. 910, the Healthy Families Act, a bill mandating seven days of paid sick leave for employers with 15 or more employees. “Barack Obama supports efforts to guarantee workers seven days of paid sick leave per year, a moderate proposal that should not impose too onerous a burden on employers,” according to his Web site.

McCain: His Web site states that he supported the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993. Co-sponsored the Family Friendly Workplace Act, which would allow “employees to take compensatory time off rather than be paid overtime.” He has not indicated his stance on legislation mandating paid sick leave.