Last fall, the U.S. government came to a grinding halt. Congress was unable to pass a continuing resolution needed to fund the operations of the country’s agencies and programs. Two years previous, we neared a similar calamity over extension of the federal debt limit with the threat of default ultimately resulting in a downgrade of American debt by one of the key ratings agencies.
What does all that have to do with the amusement game industry? A lot. Last month, officials with the industry’s two major trade associations, AAMA and AMOA, traveled to Washington to meet with federal officials and stress the need for stability in tax and regulatory policies. Lack of stability at the federal level is a byproduct of partisan gridlock, the same root cause that led to the last year’s shutdown and the earlier debt limit debacle.
Regardless of your personal political beliefs, partisan gridlock harms businesses because it leads to inaction in Congress. I know some of you may think less Congress is better, but most laws have a sunset date, to ensure political accountability in the future. A Congress mired in partisanship may well be unable to renew or update laws crucial to the business community, like provisions involving special tax deductions. Even a controversial law like the Affordable Care Act will require extensive modifications as its provisions begin to take affect, but a hyper political atmosphere makes such changes all but impossible at the present moment.
Fortunately, the tide appears to be turning. The industry’s chief federal lobbyist John Russell of Dentons wrote the following in AAMA’s Loose Change newsletter: “What a difference a year makes. Congress (recently) passed and sent to the President a debt limit extension that takes the issue off the table through March of 2015. Gone from this debate were the theatrics, and the Republican demands for concessions in spending, that surrounded the last debt limit increase. No Senate filibusters, no countdown clocks on the cable news networks, instead a clean extension passed with predominantly Democratic votes.”
With a return to regular order in Congress, we can only hope that a spirit of compromise will likewise emerge. Pundits and campaign fundraisers may profit from acrimony and divisiveness, but small business is harmed by the political results. As former AAMA Chairman John Margold explained following February’s trip to Washingon: “We need consistency for planning purposes. None of us have the voice of a General Motors, but when you add up all the small businesses across this country we have the same impact. For the nation to be healthy, small business has to be healthy, and we need long-term reform of the tax code. You can’t plan your investment and staff decisions based on 90-day stopgap federal funding and tax policy. We have to be able to plan. We really need a 10-year cycle.”
So partisanship is bad for business, at least small- to medium-sized businesses. Fortunately, small businesses may well have the answer to our partisan problems if more of them would follow the example of our industry’s leaders and take their case for policy and tax planning stability to their elected representatives from both parties.
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