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GUEEST COLUMN

Regulations are essential protections for small businesses

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cartoon by McKee

A guy walks into a bar and says, "ouch."

Now, you might be thinking that's a really bad one-liner. Actually, I was just recounting the start of my day.

I walk into the Silver Dollar Saloon - the bar I own in Butte - every day, and I've been saying "ouch" a lot lately. My business may be more recession-proof than many others, but we're still hurting in this down economy.

Small business owners want our communities to flourish once again. We are working to build a thriving local economy that supports a strong middle class, and that can only happen if we have customers who have money they can spend at our businesses.

This isn't something we can accomplish on our own. Our economy is tied to the national economy, and we need our elected officials to take decisive action to create jobs and put Americans back to work.

As a small business owner, I want to be clear on one thing: if we want a vibrant local economy, we must maintain the rules and standards that protect our employees' health and our customers' financial security. Just look at the lessons from our local history.

Here in Butte, we know what happens when you don't have strong rules protecting workers and local quality of life. We know what happens when one company's unchecked power overruns basic rights to health and safety.

From the toxic smelter emissions that once gave Butte a higher death rate than New York City and created the largest Superfund site in the country, to the Speculator Mine disaster of 1917 where at least 167 miners were killed, Butte residents have paid for inadequate regulations and enforcement with their lives. And they worked hard - through unions and other organizations - to create lifesaving labor, health and environmental protections that built the middle class and bolstered the customer base for local small businesses.

Butte's history of working together to protect our local community and local economy from corporate special interests runs deep. But it's not just Butte's story. In thousands of communities across the nation, people have come together to demand rules and safeguards that protect our well-being.

Now, some politicians are siding with big businesses who want to roll back these protections, threatening to take away health, safety and financial rules that keep our air clean, our workforce healthy, and our customers safe. Big businesses want more profits - no matter how much it costs the public.

You don't have to be a small business owner to see how high these costs can be. Just look at the 2008 financial crisis. That crisis, which destroyed more than 8 million jobs and left us with this jobless recovery, was caused by decades of deregulation that let Wall Street run wild in pursuit of astronomical profit - at our expense.

It boggles my mind that some legislators are arguing that gutting rules and standards will magically create jobs after the deregulation-fueled financial crisis just destroyed 8 million of them. This is like proposing another drinking binge as the cure for a really bad hangover. It's utterly insane.

The fact is, regulations create jobs. About 32 jobs are created for each $1 million of restoration funds for the Silver Bow Creek (for which $85 million has been allocated). The workers on that project will be paying customers at Butte businesses. That's what small businesses need: customers.

I've heard politicians say they're for "liberating" Main Street. I'm for that, too. I'd love to be liberated from the Too-Big-to-Fail banks and from health insurance companies that hike rates by double digits every year. But gutting regulations won't "liberate" small businesses - it will liberate big banks and insurance companies to crush us.

So, the next time you hear politicians talk about scrapping clean air or financial protections in the name of small business, don't buy it. Remember that these rules keep communities healthy and level the playing field for small businesses against big special interests.

If we let big business use small business as an excuse to rewrite the rules - for their gain and our loss - the joke will be on all of us. We have seen that happen before. Let's make sure it doesn't happen again.

- Brian McGregor owns the Silver Dollar Saloon in Butte, and is a member of the Montana Small Business Alliance and the national Main Street Alliance business network.

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