A good friend and former executive director for Naturally Boulder, Arron Mansika, started a new business leader development program, Mindful Your Business. At the root of his powerful training regime is the notion that awareness of our personal emotions and bias, along with empathy for these same conditions in others, helps business leaders make more thoughtful decisions. As Arron says it best, “Mindfulness is a strategic business advantage.”
As we approach another local election season — that time when officials and enterprising citizens contemplate new voter-approved taxes for worthy civic causes — I ask you to apply these same mindfulness principles before asking local businesses to bear the burden of meeting our community’s seemingly boundless revenue aspirations.
No, it isn’t new for an organization like the Boulder Chamber to seek tax relief for local businesses. You can also color me conservative when it comes to imposing financial burdens on the very entities that are the source of our shared economic vitality. But this is no typical plea for relief. In many cases, when compared to the tax burden in other surrounding communities, Boulder is stifling business operations. Take for example our once thriving beer brewing industry. The cost of local business personal property tax, which is the same as the commercial property tax rate of almost $27,000 for every $1 million in value on fixed assets, is literally driving most breweries out of Boulder.
Or consider your favorite local restaurant. They won’t tell you this as they serve your meal, but most of those I speak with are feeling pinched. The cost of everything from food ingredients to labor is rising, while daily traffic is down. Yet typically their biggest concern: rising property taxes. Their landlords can keep rent rates flat, and often are providing price breaks and tenant improvement incentives, but property tax levels continue escalating — recently about 8% annually, but likely much higher this year — exhausting any glimmer of a profit margin.
This isn’t the shedding of alligator tears. Ever-rising property taxes are a very real threat to the livelihood of business owners, the staff they hire, the tax revenue they generate and the character they provide to our community.
A less mindful resident would scoff at the scenario I’m outlining. As we experienced in the case of our opposition to last year’s library district tax, for example, many simply wrote it off as the standard anti-tax platitude that fills the playbook of every typical business association. Some even ascribed other more sinister values to our position, from a disdain for literacy to insinuations of racial insensitivity. Of course, it’s no better when we’re derided as “socialists” for our support of tax investments in other civic assets.
In Arron’s training, he suggests that business leaders practice what he calls the “Quick Sit.” In essence, he recommends short one-minute meditations as a means of centering ourselves and avoiding knee-jerk responses to challenging situations based on bias or emotion. This meditation practice also can give you the wherewithal to empathize with the motivations and interests of others. I’m thinking our community could use a Quick Sit the next time we’re asked to meet civic needs with a funding mechanism, like property tax, that falls on our local businesses.
Despite a recent voter decision to repeal the Gallagher Amendment, the impact of its provisions — effectively forcing commercial properties to carry four times more of the tax burden than residential properties — will echo for years to come. That means every time you check the “YES/FOR” box in favor of a future property tax, please remember that the people who cut your hair will be paying four times the cost of that new tax on their assessed property value. That might force them to raise the cost of your haircut, or just as likely, it might be the straw that breaks the business-person’s back and forces you to find another barber.
OK, I may be biased and a bit emotional about this issue. And upon further reflection, not necessarily entailing a Quick Sit, the Boulder Chamber often supports tax investment in our public infrastructure and programs. But before our elected leaders and residents consider reaching further into the pockets of our local businesses, I ask you to demonstrate a little empathy. Let’s be mindful of the impacts on our businesses, economy and community.
John Tayer is president and CEO of the Boulder Chamber of Commerce. He can be reached at 303-442-1044, ext 110 or firstname.lastname@example.org.