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Local businesses express tax code concerns at Phoenix gathering

LOCAL OWNERS: (left to right) Jim Mapstead of Local First Arizona, Rep. Chad Campbell, D-Phoenix, and Kimber Lanning, of Local First Arizona, held a discussion Tuesday for small business owners. (Photo by Jessica Weisel)
LOCAL OWNERS: (left to right) Jim Mapstead of Local First Arizona, Rep. Chad Campbell, D-Phoenix, and Kimber Lanning, of Local First Arizona, held a discussion Tuesday for small business owners. (Photo by Jessica Weisel)

Local business owners gathered at the Clarendon Hotel in downtown Phoenix Tuesday to talk with state Rep. Chad Campbell, D-Phoenix, about the issues they’re facing, with the discussion largely focusing on taxes.

Campbell, the House Democratic leader-elect, organized the event and said the purpose of the meeting was for him to hear directly from local business owners rather than from lobbyists.

“We don’t really hear the small business perspective,” Campbell said. “This informal conversation is meant to get a more genuine perspective in what small businesses would like to see going into this next legislative session.”

Kimber Lanning, founder and executive director of Local First Arizona, a group focused on supporting local businesses, said in this economic crisis small businesses need to have a say in Arizona’s future.

“We need to make sure we as small businesses have a seat at the table,” Lanning said. “We need to demand a seat at that table.”

More than 20 business owners of professions that included plumbing, farming and photography attended the discussion.  With the new session starting Jan. 10, many of the attendees wanted there to be a focus on streamlining the tax code.

Campbell said many of the loopholes and exceptions in the tax code were unfair to local businesses, especially when looking at the 25 percent property tax for Arizona businesses.

“Small businesses are the backbone of the state,” Campbell said. “We need to make the tax code fair for Arizona businesses and keeping dollars here in Arizona and not ship it out.”

Jim Mapstead, board chair for Local First Arizona, said he hoped the event would be a springboard for local business owners to be able to talk to their legislators about the issues they face.

“We’re often told by legislators that they get really tired of hearing from lobbyists and the people that they see and have dinner with on a daily basis,” Mapstead said to the group. “It is people like all of us in this room right here who have a greater impact in telling legislators exactly what’s going on in our businesses than the lobbyists do.”

The issue of giving local businesses priority when it came to procurement, or the state accepting bids for contracts for different services, was discussed.

Lanning said Arizona is one of only three states, including Rhode Island and New Hampshire, that do not put a preference on local businesses for these contracts.

In 2008, a bill introduced in the Senate would have given the nod to local businesses in the event of a tie between a local and non-local business, but it was defeated in the House.

“We’re considering reintroducing the legislation, but we don’t have the support at this time,” Lanning said.

She said in order to get the law changed, the dialogue needed to be altered so others wouldn’t see that change as being unfair to big businesses.

“These types of changes could literally make a huge impact on our state’s economy,” Lanning said, pointing to other cities that have seen increases in the amount of consumer dollars that remain in the state from using this procurement practice.

Campbell said with 30 new freshman legislators coming into the House for the new session, business owners should let them know what their concerns are.

“It’s a golden opportunity to introduce yourselves to the new legislators,” he said.

Mapstead said the event allowed Campbell to know what business owners needed, but also allowed those business owners to see their common ground.

“There are a lot of frustrations and situations we face as business owners,” Mapstead said. “There’s a real commonality that exists here because we operate businesses in this state.”

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