Few things are more vexing to business owners than uncertainty. For all of our risk-taking bravado, we still crave an economic environment where the rules are basically known.
Which is why negotiations over the so-called fiscal-cliff now going on in Washington are so unsettling for some.
Who will face higher taxes in 2013? Will cuts in federal spending result in slower business growth? And how are business owners to plan when so much is still up in the air?
I talked with some local accountants and business owners to gauge how they are coping. To sum it up in a single phrase, it’s been frustrating.
David Fraser, a partner in the Charlotte accounting firm LB&A, said some of his clients are coming in saying they’re unsure what to do, complaining that they’ve never been in this situation before.
“To be honest, we really don’t know what needs to be done,” he said candidly.
About the only thing that’s certain, he said, is that someone, at some income level, will pay higher taxes in 2013.
After campaigning on a pledge to raise taxes on families earning more than $250,000, President Barack Obama now appears willing to push that threshold significantly higher. How much higher is anyone’s guess.
Gayle Fox, another Charlotte CPA, said that even with the lower threshold of $250,000, most of her business clients would probably escape higher taxes. Still, she said, “We’re sort of up in the air in advising clients what they should do.”
One of the big issues business owners face involves year-end tax planning. In normal times, the goal would be to defer as much income as possible while accelerating expense deductions. But with no tax deal yet in Washington, conventional wisdom could backfire, depending on where lawmakers draw the final line on tax increases.
“What we’re seeing is everybody is maintaining the status quo,” Fraser said.
At Summit Insurance, an independent agency in Huntersville, co-owner Lisa Squatriglia said any tax increase is a bad idea. She added that higher taxes will prevent small-business owners from hiring more people.
That’s certainly the case in her business, she said. After filling a current job opening, the company will put any future hiring on hold, she said, in part because of the uncertainty around tax rates. (In addition to Squatriglia and her husband, Summit currently employs eight people.)
“The tax burden on the small business is too high,” she said. “We look at (it) every two to three months. What is government going to want? …We’ve got to be able to make payroll.”
For all the talk about higher taxes, other business owners are just as worried about the proposed cuts in government spending.
At American Products Distributors in south Charlotte, company President Cy Kennedy said his client list includes the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the U.S. Postal Service and several defense contractors. (APD was founded in 1992 by Kennedy’s father, former banker C. Ray Kennedy, and now employs about 50 people)
Because of the company’s business model – it provides customized procurement programs for employers who need office supplies, corporate-infinity items, maintenance products and other items – Kennedy said cuts in government spending could mean slower growth in the years ahead.
Kennedy said tax increases are not his primary concern.
“We don’t forgo business opportunities based on how much we will be taxed on the profit,” he said. “We don’t make decisions about whether to hire someone based on the tax rate. We make those decisions based on whether we have a profitable business opportunity in front of us.”
Glenn Burkins is editor and publisher of Qcitymetro.com, an online news site targeting Charlotte’s African American community. He is a former Wall Street Journal reporter and Charlotte Observer business editor.