Chamber small-business survey finds scorn for taxes

Small-business owners in the Wichita area blasted taxes in a survey released this week by the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce.

The chamber will use the survey as it lobbies the Kansas Legislature to minimize tax increases as the state struggles to close a roughly $500 million budget shortfall.

In the survey:

* 26 percent of respondents named taxes as the most important issue they faced, more than any other issue, including unemployment, the economy or health care.

* 44 percent said cutting taxes was the best strategy for state growth, more than business incentives or spending more on schools or infrastructure.

* 61 percent said they paid too much in state and local taxes.

* 68 percent said cutting government was the best way to close the budget shortfall.

Nearly two-thirds of the respondents had five or fewer employees, and 94 percent had fewer than 100.

Anxiety over taxes has increased as the economy has plunged and the federal government has enacted or discussed large new programs.

Nationally, corporate profits are strong, having risen 30 percent since the fourth quarter of 2008.

But many in small business say they haven't felt that kind of recovery and they reacted strongly to the prospect of an increase in the sales tax or increases in cigarette and liquor taxes, and a new tax on sugary drinks.

The state has already cut the general fund budget by $1.1 billion, or 17 percent, since last year. Cutting $500 million more would represent another 12 percent cut.

Sam Williams, managing partner at Sullivan Higdon & Sink and chairman of the chamber of commerce, said the survey shows that businesses think raising taxes will hurt rather than help the economy.

"I own a business," Williams said. "The last two years I've had to make some real tough decisions. People in the survey think that our Legislature needs to make those same decisions. This is the world we live in. Why shouldn't our public sector have to live in the same world?"

The key message to the Legislature, said chamber lobbyist Jason Watkins, is if taxes rise, there will be less money for businesses to invest and hire, and the economy will take longer to grow.

"If job creation is their No. 1 priority, isn't there a responsibility to listen to those who create the jobs?" he said.