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In our opinion: Ethics and honesty — not taxation — most important to small business owners

Published: Thursday, Nov. 1 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama shake hands as moderator Bob Schieffer looks on during the third presidential debate at Lynn University, Monday, Oct. 22, 2012, in Boca Raton, Fla.

, Charlie Neibergall, Associated Press

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In the current debate over the state of the economy, a lot is being said about the plight of small business. That is as it should be, given the fact such a large percentage of employment is attached to smaller enterprises. That's why it's interesting to hear from small-business owners themselves about what most worries them.

Actually, the most interesting part of a new survey by George Washington University is not what worries small businesses the most, but what doesn't worry them so much, at least in relative terms.

Taken as a whole, the survey suggests that small-business owners, more so than the political parties and their candidates, tend to take a big picture, long view of the economy and future prospects, and are less worried about any individual sub-issue.

For example, the burden of taxation is a concern, but not a prevalent one. Only 6 percent nationally said it was their biggest concern. Nor are small business operators hugely concerned with either keeping or doing away with the Affordable Health Care Act, or "Obamacare." Ten percent cited health care costs and the future of health care reform — one way or another — as their most important issue.

You would think high fuel prices would be a potent source of worry, but only 6 percent of respondents put that at the top of their list.

So what are they most worried about? The answers vary, but as a whole they reveal a sensible and pragmatic perspective that seems to look further down the line and beyond the hot-button issues of the moment that politicians tend to place on the front burner.

The results of the survey are nuanced, in that they were framed in the context of the upcoming elections. Business owners were asked, for example, "Thinking specifically about the economy, what is the most important economic issue in your choice for President?"

In Utah, the most worrisome economic issue is the federal deficit. Twenty-six percent of respondents put it at the top of the list. Next was "unemployment and the job market," which 16 percent cited as a top concern. Nationally, where the overall unemployment rate is higher than it is here, the percentages were reversed, with 26 percent citing unemployment, and 16 percent pointing to the deficit.

Not surprisingly, on the question of what constitutes the most important overall issue in the race, the economy was No. 1, with 40 percent calling it the biggest worry. But interestingly, the second most poignant concern is "ethics, honesty and corruption in government," which 14 percent of the respondents put on the top of their list.

The "ethics" number was slightly lower in Utah, at 11 percent, but still above issues like "education" (4 percent), "social and moral issues" (4 percent) or "foreign policy and national security" (2 percent). In Utah, not a single respondent listed "taxes" as the top issue.

A lot of things can be read into the results, and not a lot can be deduced with a degree of certainty, but they do point to a disconnect between the issues that concern business owners and those given the most voice by politicians.

Even though more than one in 10 Utah small business owners listed a lack of ethics and honesty as their top issue, it's a subject we rarely hear broached by candidates.

It also shows that people responsible for plotting a viable future for their businesses and their employees are by obligation and nature the kinds of people who tend to look beyond the issues du jour and embrace a broader reality. They see beyond the next fiscal year and recognize, for example, that a pernicious deficit will retard business growth for generations to come, and that a playing field where ethics are lacking is not a fair playing field.

We would all benefit if government might somehow muster an equivalent focus. The ultimate conclusion of the survey is that America's shop owners and entrepreneurs understand it will be harder for them to look after their business, until government takes care of its business.

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