What They Want This election, some big issues for small business
By Edward Robinson

(FORTUNE Small Business) – It doesn't happen often, but this presidential election year features a raft of fiscal issues affecting small businesses. Some, like the minimum wage, are perennials; others, like Internet taxes, are brand-new. A sampler:

HIKING THE MINIMUM WAGE. A higher minimum wage is so popular with voters that in March, 78 Republicans in the House of Representatives joined their Democrat colleagues to approve a $1 hike, which would raise the base wage to $6.15 per hour. House GOP leaders have tied the raise to their $123 billion tax-cut package, which President Clinton has vowed to veto. But both parties are so eager to score election-year points that a compromise is highly probable.

Democrats: Yea Republicans: Nay

ROLLING BACK THE DEATH TAX. This 84-year-old tax requires estates to pay an assessment of 37% to 55% on the value of assets greater than $675,000 after the estate holder's demise. Family businesses decry the death tax as an abusive penalty, because the kids are suddenly hit with crippling tax bills. Supporters? They say the tax helps close the gap between rich and poor. But the GOP is mounting a three-pronged attack on the tax: The House tax-cut bill would slash the estate tax's floor rate to 18% and the ceiling to 50%. Rep. Jennifer Dunn (R-Wash.) is backing that up with a separate bill that would ease the tax by 5% a year until it reaches zero by 2010. And GOP Gov. George W. Bush of Texas has vowed to kill the tax if elected President. Many Democrats agree with Vice President Al Gore that a repeal would be a sop to the rich. But others believe the benefits for small companies outweigh that concern--Rep. John Tanner (D-Tenn.), for one, is co-sponsoring Dunn's bill, and there seem to be enough like-minded Democrats to fashion a compromise on the issue.

Democrats: Nay Republicans: Yea

LOWERING HEALTH-CARE COSTS. Like big business, small business wants to be exempt from state mandates, which can require small firms to buy broad insurance policies with pricey offerings such as those for replacing dentures. Such mandates helped drive up small firms' health insurance costs 20% last year. Many small firms also want to band together to form Association Health Plans (AHPs) with national bargaining power. A bill proposed by Rep. James Talent (R-Mo.) would allow this and make small firms exempt from mandates too. Estimated savings: Health insurance would cost 13% less. But AHPs have strong opposition from large insurers and Democrats, including Gore, who do not favor private-sector-oriented solutions for health-care problems. Republicans, though, see AHPs as a potent plank in their election-year health-care platform--indeed, Bush supports them.

Democrats: Nay Republicans: Yea

TAXING THE INTERNET. On one side are state officials, who fear that tax-free e-commerce will erode sales tax receipts. On the other side are dot-coms and antitax partisans, who argue that sales taxes would stifle e-commerce. The issue poses a dilemma for small businesses: Though reflexively antitax, many believe dot-coms are reaping an unfair price advantage from the tax-free Web. Both Gore and Bush favor extending the moratorium, but stop there. How tough is this issue? A blue-ribbon panel, at press time, was deadlocked on making a recommendation.

Democrats: Abstain Republicans: Abstain