Small Business Results

By Pitts, William O. | THE JOURNAL RECORD, June 21, 1999 | Go to article overview

Small Business Results


Pitts, William O., THE JOURNAL RECORD


The hopes were big, perhaps unrealistically so. The results were not so big. Such was the fate of an ambitious legislative program put together late last year to benefit small business in Oklahoma and to help boost the state's economy.

Leading the effort was the Governor's Conference on Small Business, the Oklahoma State Chamber's Small Business Council and the National Federation of Independent Businesses.

Their program covered a broad spectrum of legislative issues including workers compensation reform, tax policy, business growth incentives and legal reform. It was a well-thought-out, solid program that quickly gained uniform support from the small business community. Small business owners in each legislative district worked with their legislators in developing it. The lobbying effort for the program began when several hundred small business owners held a conference in Tulsa Feb. 15 and a week later came to Oklahoma City to "storm the Capitol." Some of their legislation did make it through the House and Senate and got to conference. Unfortunately, very little of it made it all the way through this year's "muddle through" Legislature. The main workers compensation issue was embodied in two bills providing any claimant whose injury does not prevent returning to employment at the same or greater rate of pay would not be eligible for a permanent disability award. It is not a new proposal, having been deleted from the so-called workers compensation reform bill passed in 1997. Both measures, Senate Bill 512 and House Bill 1425, authored by Sen. Jim Maddox, D-Lawton, and Rep. Jari Askins, D-Duncan, died in the Senate home for trial lawyers, the Judiciary Committee. Under legislative rules they will carry over until next session, but probably won't see the light of day next year either. With support from Gov. Frank Keating, an effort was made to include the language in HB 1771 by Rep. Mike Ervin, D-Wewoka, and Judiciary Committee Chair Sen. Brad Henry, D-Shawnee, which provided $30 million to pay unpaid injured workers claims and attorney's fees against the state's Special Indemnity Fund. It was rejected. Keating subsequently vetoed the bill. Another unsuccessful try was made in SB 680 by the same authors. It required the State Insurance Fund to declare a dividend to policyholders and provided the money to pay the claims and attorneys fees. The governor signed this bill and some businesses undoubtedly benefited from the dividend. A number of tax proposals were included in their agenda. One was repeal of the state franchise tax, which for small businesses often cost three or four times as much as the tax just to prepare the return. Two bills -- HB 1838 by Rep. Kevin Calvey, R-Del City, and HB 1278 by Rep. Jack Bonny, D-Burns Flat -- would have accomplished this. Calvey's bill called for complete repeal of the tax, at an estimated revenue loss of $35 million. It died in the House Revenue and Taxation Committee. Bonny's bill would have cost only $3 million by eliminating the tax if the total owed is less than $250. It was in conference when the Legislature adjourned. …

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