Another Presidential Election, and Retail Issues Are Still at Stake

This article was published in the October 2016 issue of STORES Magazine.

Matthew Shay

Matthew Shay

Election years come and go. So do the candidates. What’s amazing is how the issues stay the same.

Four years ago this month, the headline on this column was “Retail and the Election.” Comprehensive tax reform, online sales tax collection, Obamacare, labor issues, international trade and credit/debit card swipe fees were among retailers’ top concerns as Mitt Romney unsuccessfully challenged President Obama’s bid for a second term. As Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump vie to succeed Obama, the list has hardly changed.

After much delay, House Republicans recently introduced a tax reform bill that would achieve NRF’s goals of lowering rates and “broadening” the tax base — but it would also create a consumption tax that could devastate retail sales. Legislation to level the playing field on sales tax passed the Senate three years ago only to die in the House. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Robert Goodlatte, R-Va., has finally outlined his own version but the legislation needs work. Like tax reform, however, it isn’t likely there will be time to pass it this year.

Obamacare has seen some reform but still retains its most onerous provisions. The administration has gone beyond using the National Labor Relations Board to make unionization easier and is using the Labor Department to impose overtime expansion that would compound regulatory burdens, limit career opportunities and leave most workers with no increase in take-home pay.

House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, is trying to kill the savings brought to consumers by debit card reform. And while Congress last year passed legislation making it easier to enact trade agreements, both Clinton and Trump are opposed to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the most important trade agreement since NAFTA.

With Congress in stalemate, states and even local governments have taken it on themselves to do what Washington cannot. However, most of the initiatives, such as raising the minimum wage or eliminating flexibility in employee scheduling, are decidedly anti-business.

There have been improvements. Unemployment, which stood at 7.9 percent in October 2012, was 4.9 percent in August. There have been a record 78 months of job growth, with 151,000 jobs added in August, 12,000 in retail alone. While the economy is growing, it is not growing fast enough — one news story called it “steady but less than spectacular.”

The White House isn’t the only prize in November. Control of both chambers of Congress is up for grabs, not to mention legislatures and governors’ offices across the country. And with the current trend toward local legislation that can impact business, even mayoral and city council races can have an effect on retailers’ bottom lines.

With that in mind, every retailer needs to play an active role in this year’s elections. It’s more than civic duty. Elections this year will have a profound effect on the economy. And the jobs that will be affected may well be your own.