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Brian Setzler: What’s really best for small business

As a certified public accountant and business owner, I know the impact of taxes up close and personal. And the claim that ending Bush-era tax cuts on income over a quarter of a million dollars will hurt the economy, reduce employment and burden small businesses is patently false. Let’s take a look at the evidence.

First off, small business owners rarely have taxable income in excess of $250,000 (gross income would be substantially more as taxable income includes reductions for business expenses, personal deductions and family exemptions). Hiring people and investing in your business actually reduces taxable income, so hiring and investing decisions would be unaffected. At issue is the tax on income, or the money the owner has available to take out of the business.

According to the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation, less than 3 percent of tax filers with any business income make over $250,000 (couples) or $200,000 (individuals) a year, the thresholds above which the Bush tax cuts would expire, and many of those are not small business owners. As Ed Kleinbard, former staff director of the Joint Committee on Taxation, said, “Every student who is a part-time Web designer, partner in a law firm with a billion dollars of revenue and investor in a hedge fund gets lumped together in the data, along with real small businesses.”

Even if someone does have over $250,000 of taxable income, the additional tax rate is a marginal tax rate, which means they only pay the higher rates on the portion of income over $250,000, not under it. When the rate goes from 35 to 39.6 percent (back to the level under Clinton) in the very top bracket, for example, it doesn’t mean they pay 39.6 percent of their total income in taxes any more than they paid 35 percent of their total income before. They still start at a 10 percent rate for their first portion of income and work their way up incrementally through the tax brackets. They still pay the same rates everyone else does up to that level of income.

Those fortunate enough to make these high incomes will still benefit from the tax cuts on their first $250,000 of income, just like other Americans. The amount at issue is 3.9 percent or $39 for every $1,000 of income above $250,000. You can check out your own tax situation with the calculator at the non-partisan to see how you might be affected.

When someone claims a small businessperson will pay additional taxes of $20,000, that small businessperson must have taxable income in excess of $700,000. If they claim they’ll pay $120,000 more, they have an eye-popping “small business” income of $3 million. Sounds more like a hedge fund manager to me.

Small businesses are crucial job creators, but if lower tax rates produced job growth, we should have seen a boom in new jobs following the tax cuts. Instead, even the Wall Street Journal, not a bastion of liberal economic policy, said President Bush “shows the worst track record for job creation since the government began keeping records in 1939.” In fact, it’s much worse than under President Clinton who increased taxes. As a new report by Business for Shared Prosperity explains, “The Bush administration created just 1.1 million jobs net while the Clinton administration created 22.7 million.”

The choice is stark. Do we borrow $700 billion from China as we did this past decade to pay for tax cuts for hedge fund managers and Wall Street barons — irresponsibly burdening our children with repaying, a debt with interest we don’t need to incur?

Do we make deep cuts in social services, education and public safety and forgo investing in the 21st Century infrastructure we desperately need to be competitive?

Or do we do the right thing and ask fellow citizens with really high incomes to pay their fair share? These are real choices our Congressional representatives will make in coming days.

Let’s tell Congress that investing in the infrastructure our businesses and well being depend on, educating our children, caring for the sick and the elderly, and investing in the future are what made America great in the first place.

Brian Setzler is a certified public accountant since 1989 and president and founder of TriLibrium, an accounting and business advisory firm located in Portland, Ore.