PORTLAND — When I left my job in finance last year to follow my dream of opening a store selling craft beer, wine, mead and cider, I had a bit more of an idea of what I was getting into than many first-time entrepreneurs. I have an MBA, and I knew how important it was to have a good business plan, the support of my wife and business partner, and the backing of Maine’s great craft beer community.

I knew how many small businesses struggle and fail and was prepared to work hard for long hours. I also knew how lucky I was to be able to access health insurance through my wife’s job, without which we could never have taken the risk of opening our own business, especially not at the same time as we were starting a family. (Our son, Liam, just turned a year old.)

What I never anticipated when we started out, however, was that a small group of members of Congress would cause so many problems for my business and for small businesses all over our state and country by shutting down the federal government and threatening to default on the nation’s debt. I certainly wouldn’t have predicted that, after having failed so spectacularly in their objectives the first time, they would now be talking about pulling the same stunt again.

The federal government shutdown in October affected my store in a number of ways, both big and small.

One of the most obvious was that federal beverage labeling approval ground to a halt. This meant no new beers coming across Maine’s border. We cater to a loyal customer base that’s always looking for new experiences, and a lack of access to new products can make a big difference in our sales.

This and other hurdles caused by the shutdown also placed a burden on Maine’s many craft breweries, which are the bedrock of beer culture in Maine. The vast majority of Maine’s breweries are, like us, very small businesses. Most have between two and 10 employees. For businesses of this size that make a go of it a day at a time, problems like the ones caused by a government shutdown can be an existential threat.

On a broader scale, the economic shock waves of a shutdown and the possibility of a debt default hit small businesses like mine especially hard.

One of the first things to happen during an economic crisis is that short-term credit for small businesses disappears. We saw the devastating effects of this constriction of capital on the small-business economy during the collapse of 2008. Add to this the lack of Small Business Administration loans because of the shutdown, and you have a recipe for escalating economic disaster.

These kinds of effects hit Maine especially hard. We aren’t a state of giant factories; we’re a state where small firms make up 97.2 percent of all employers, according to the SBA.

So how can we prevent this (or worse) from happening again as we head toward another federal showdown in January?

The first step is for voters to realize how much damage the tea party caucus in the House has done and bring pressure on them to stop taking hostages. Their rhetoric may be pro-business, but their actions are devastating for the small businesses that make up the backbone of our economy.

The second, and more permanent, step is to solve our perennial budget crises by taking stock of our priorities and making budget decisions based on what we value as a nation. The truth is that if large corporations paid their fair share of taxes, like small businesses already do, there wouldn’t be a problem at all.

There’s a lot of talk about how politicians need to make tough decisions, but I don’t see why this one is so tough. It’s just common sense that we should close corporate loopholes and shut down overseas tax havens before we cut things like Social Security or food stamps.

Making our tax system fairer won’t harm small businesses. I and other small-business owners already pay our share of taxes. We’re not the ones with the money to pay accountants and lobbyists to find or create these loopholes.

You might think that the beer business is a recession-proof industry, but that’s not the case at all. What happens in Washington affects us a great deal. Maine small businesses are in this together. We need a government that’s functional and fair and politicians who have our back.

— Special to the Press Herald

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