Sunday, April 20, 2014
By Bob Keyes firstname.lastname@example.org
Another in a weekly series on what Mainers across the state say about the race for the White House -- and what they want from the next president.
John Merrill, owner of Merrill’s Bookshop on Water Street in Hallowell, says he believes his small business will suffer if Mitt Romney is elected president.
Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer
Geoff Houghton, who owns The Liberal Cup on Water Street in downtown Hallowell, says he’s a fan of less regulation but doesn’t think that either Romney or Obama has a good grasp on small business.
Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer
HALLOWELL - Geoff Houghton owns The Liberal Cup restaurant and brew pub in Hallowell and the Run of the Mill in Saco. Between the two businesses, he employs about 120 people.
He laughs that he probably pays more different kinds of taxes to more local, state and federal agencies than anyone else in Maine. He pays liquor tax, sales tax, business tax, property tax, excise tax, employment tax, worker's comp. And that's just for his business. He has personal income taxes to pay, as well as property taxes, sales tax and a few others he can't think of off the top of his head.
He's taxed out. But he's not complaining.
"I hate them as much as anyone. But they have to be paid to make things run. I'm more interested that they are spent wisely," said Houghton, 45, who lives in Whitefield.
This election season, with all the focus on taxes and their impact on small businesses, Houghton barely contains his frustration with the presidential candidates.
He says both candidates talk like they know what business folks like him need to succeed. They don't, he says.
"Mitt Romney touts his business principles, but he doesn't know anything about small business. And neither does Obama," he said.
Being in business in a place like Hallowell means being accountable to your friends and neighbors, being a part of the community.
When the Kennebec River overflows its banks, it's about helping folks across the street salvage their inventory. When a business down the block sustains a devastating fire, it's about hosting fundraisers to help them rebuild. It's about participating in a Halloween pub crawl or contributing to an important charity event.
It's certainly not about calculating ways to save on taxes in order to make strategic long-term business decisions. Any decision that Houghton makes about adding or subtracting employees has nothing to do with the taxes he pays. If the outcome of the election saves him money on taxes, he may invest in a piece of equipment or improve his property. But he certainly would not add payroll.
He hires exactly the number of people he needs to run his businesses efficiently. That's what successful small-business people do, he says. Hiring has everything to do with market demand.
"I do not think tax cutting creates jobs. Most small businessmen only hire as many people as they need. Because they pay less taxes, they're not going to create a position. My payroll is exactly what it needs to be," he said. "Why would I create a job I don't need?
During the political season, Houghton treads on neutral turf. He's a registered independent, and is not loyal to either major-party candidate -- and he refuses to say how he intends to vote Nov. 6.
Either way, he figures half his clientele will be disappointed with the outcome and half will be happy. They'll both come to his establishment to celebrate or drown their sorrows. He'll be sympathetic to those who are upset and raise a toast with those who are happy.
He notes the name of his Hallowell business -- the Liberal Cup. His conservative friends chide him for his use of the word "liberal," especially in a place like Hallowell, which is famously left-leaning. Four years ago, Barack Obama won in Hallowell by better than a 2-to-1 margin.
But the name of his business has nothing to do with politics, Houghton says.
The name references the bountiful mugs of beer that he's fond of serving. Being generous with food and drink is the kind of decision that's good for business, he says. That's what keeps people coming back, and that's what keeps his payroll stable and healthy.
(Continued on page 2)