Jewelers to Government: Help!

U.S. jewelers have an urgent plea for the new president and Congress: Lower the taxes!

And, while they’re at it, make health insurance affordable so small-business owners can insure their workers and themselves.

These are some results of a recent JCK survey of hundreds of U.S. jewelers who were asked to name the big issues affecting them. The three biggest were taxes, the economy, and health insurance.

Taxes. The most frequently cited issue is what many called the “tax burden” on small businesses. “Self-employment, state, local, property, and federal taxes are killing my small business,” said Michael Cowing, of Crownsville, Md. A Davenport, Wash., jeweler urged Congress to “make sure [small businesses] aren’t taxed to death, so they can survive.”

One in three called on President Obama and Congress to lower business taxes or provide more tax breaks for small businesses (or both). “There’s too much government in our lives and in businesses,” declared a Charlotte, N.C., jeweler. “Lower all taxes and legislation, and make them simpler.”

At the very least, said many, taxes shouldn’t be raised, and the Bush tax cuts—slated to end Dec. 31, 2010—should be kept.

A number of jewelers want an economic stimulus plan for small businesses—like tax credits for on-the-job training or other incentives. “[That] will improve our bottom line so that we can hire new employees,” said Phoenix jeweler Larry Borland.

“Give tax breaks to small business owners and set up assistance plans to help keep them from going out of business,” said Dorothy L. Tannehill, Haughton, La. Others suggested strengthening Small Business Administration programs and providing “incentives for new small businesses in the form of lower interest rates for business loans,” as a Peoria, Ariz., jeweler put it.

One issue many jewelers want resolved, after years of wrangling in Congress, is forcing Internet retailers to collect sales tax. “Close the sales tax loopholes on the Internet,” urged Philip Finnerman, Houston. “It’s unfair to brick-and-mortar stores and denies billions of dollars to municipalities in need of it.”

A number of jewelers want permanent elimination of the estate tax, set to return to 2002 levels on Jan. 1, 2011, after years of incremental reduction. “For many small businesses, building that asset for their heirs represents their life’s work,” says veteran jeweler Bill Underwood, Fayetteville, Ark.

A number of jewelers suggest revamping the tax code. Review all the taxes imposed on small businesses, urged Jan Forrester, in Houston. “Close unfair loopholes in the tax system,” adds San Diego jeweler Harold Krasner. “Create a more understandable tax code that doesn’t need a professor to interpret it.”

Economy. The biggest problem facing the new administration, said many jewelers, is the current financial instability: “a weak dollar, inflation, and commodity prices rising,” as one put it. “There is a need now to enact sound economic policies that let people prosper,” declared a Shreveport, La., jeweler.

The financial crisis—including the credit drought and mortgage foreclosures—is hurting jewelers and other small businesses, said survey respondents. As a jeweler in Canton, Ohio, said, “We’re all hanging on by our fingertips.”

The weak economy is affecting consumer spending in jewelry stores. “Jewelry is one of the first things to be cut off in poor economic times,” noted Jack Starbird, Garden Grove, Calif.

“We are in a luxury biz,” said a New England jeweler. “People won’t spend money on luxury when they’ve lost their job, seen pay cuts, or have bigger problems like affording health insurance, heating costs, car fuel, and food prices.”

Repairing the economy quickly, said many jewelers, is a win-win for small business, consumers, and Uncle Sam. ”Fix the economy so we can all prosper,” was one jeweler’s message to the new Congress. “The more business we generate, the more tax revenues are generated.”

“Leave enough money in the hands of potential customers so they’ll patronize small businesses as well as large ones,” demanded New Paltz, N.Y., jeweler Bill Luedeke. Several said a good place for Congress to start is controlling what some called “outrageous” government spending by both parties.

Health insurance. Providing health coverage for employees and themselves represents one of the biggest costs for small businesses. Over the last eight years, premiums for members of the National Federation of Independent Businesses have soared 130 percent and will rise, on average, another 10 percent this year. Of nearly 46 million people without health insurance, more than 26 million are small-business owners, their employees, and their dependents, NFIB says.

Many jewelers want prompt action by the new administration to deal with this crisis. “We need help to supply health insurance to our workers,” said Elizabeth Pettus, Santa Fe, N.M. Karin Volz, of Milwaukee, said, “Health care should be made available on a plain equal with large corporations.”

“Get the cost of health insurance back to a reasonable level so small-business owners and employees can afford decent health care,” urged a Manchester, N.H., jeweler, echoing many others. And don’t forget start-ups, added a jeweler in Nyack, N.Y. With affordable health care, “entrepreneurs can afford to start businesses,” he said.

Some suggest Congress could offset some small businesses’ health coverage costs with tax credits. A jeweler in Roanoke, Va., called for “tax decreases based on health programs provided for employees.”

Others want congressional support for buying groups, like association health plans, that enable small businesses to get cheaper rates, a proposal Jewelers of America and other business groups have pushed for years. “Allow small businesses to band together and be represented as larger groups for [better] health insurance coverage,” was the message to Congress from Tom Schmitt, in Phoenix.

The president and small business. Jewelers also had suggestions for President Obama to show support for small businesses. “We’re a country built on small businesses, and independent small-business people are America’s backbone,” Jan Fergerson, Rome, Ga., would tell the president.

Some jewelers said the best thing the president can do to show his personal support for small businesses is set an example. As Laura Stanley, Little Rock, Ark., put it, “Shop locally, show others he’s shopping locally, and encourage citizens to shop locally.”

Even more specific was jeweler Jack Kreuter in Richmond, Va. What should President Obama do? Said Kreuter: “Buy something at my store!”