What Questions Would Businesspeople Ask The Candidates?

Kurt R. Bauer
President/CEO
Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce

The Republican candidates for president will debate in Milwaukee on Tuesday and the Democrats are scheduled to do the same in Wisconsin early next year. If given the chance, here are some of the questions Wisconsin’s business leaders would ask both sets of candidates.

Taxes: At 35 percent (39.2 percent when state taxes are included), the United States has the highest and thus most uncompetitive corporate income tax rate in the industrialized world. Compare the U.S. rate to China at 25 percent, United Kingdom at 20 percent, Canada at 15 percent and Ireland at 12.5 percent. High U.S. corporate taxes fuel so-called inversions where U.S.-based companies are incentivized to domicile overseas and the punitive rate levied on dollars earned abroad keeps them from being repatriated and invested at home.

What should the U.S. corporate tax rate be in order for U.S. companies to be globally competitive? How would you use overall tax policy to grow the economy?

Regulations: U.S. businesses spend an incredible $1.88 trillion annually to comply with federal regulations, according to the Competitive Enterprise Institute. The DC-based Manufacturing Institute estimates that it costs 20 percent more to make something in the U.S., excluding labor, than other industrialized nations. Regulations are suffocating businesses and the U.S. economy along with it.

To make matters worse, the Obama Administration supports time-off, minimum wage and overtime mandates that punish small businesses for being an employer.

How would you address the weed-like growth of federal rules that are often promulgated without congressional approval or meaningful oversight? Do you think raising the costs of being an employer leads to more hiring and wage growth?

Government Debt: The U.S. national debt is $18.1 trillion or 101.1 percent of U.S. GDP. While the federal budget deficit declined to $483 billion in 2014 from a peak of $1.4 trillion in 2009 (the year of the stimulus), the Congressional Budget Office projects deficits to begin rising again in 2017. Last year, interest on the debt was 7 percent of the federal budget, behind Social Security (24 percent), Medicare/Medicaid, CHIP and marketplace subsidies (24 percent), defense (18 percent) and safety net programs (11 percent). When interest rates inevitably rise, debt service will begin to choke off other spending priorities.

Student loan debt has become a campaign issue. But shouldn’t the cost of the massive national debt and top-heavy entitlement programs be as much if not more of a concern to young people? After all, every American will inherit those costs, not just the ones who went to college.

Immigration Reform: Wisconsin has a workforce shortage that is projected to become a crisis in the near future. For example, Wisconsin is one of 15 states that has more baby boomers than millienials and its working age population will grow by just 0.04 percent through 2040, according to the Applied Population Lab at the UW-Madison.

Wisconsin was first settled by Norwegians and Germans who began arriving in the 1840s. They were followed by many other diverse groups of immigrants from around the world. Do you support immigration reform that allows and the best and the brightest to establish themselves as legal, productive and taxpaying U.S. citizens?

Energy: Wisconsin is a manufacturing state and affordable, reliable energy is vital to this economic super sector. The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed several new rules that will dramatically spike the cost of energy in Wisconsin. The rules disproportionately harm manufacturers, but also adversely impact all commercial and residential ratepayers.

Do you believe the supposed benefits of those rules, which the EPA itself admits will be negligible, are worth billions of dollars in lost economic activity and the loss of thousands of middle-class Wisconsin manufacturing jobs?

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Founded in 1911, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC) is the combined Wisconsin Chamber of Commerce, Manufacturers’ Association and Safety Council. WMC represents 3,800 employers of all sizes and from every sector of the economy.