US Small-Business Owners To Take Concerns to Polls

SMALL-business owners want change. And a new survey indicates that they are looking to the Republicans as their best hope in tomorrow's midterm congressional elections.

Nearly 39 percent of small-business owners say a shift to a Republican majority in Congress would make the most difference to them, according to a national survey of 400 small-business leaders. The respondents' companies all have annual sales of between $1 million and $3 million. Of those surveyed, 56 percent are registered Republicans, 9 percent Democrats, and 31 percent Independents.

Overwhelmingly, (74 percent), respondents cite government regulations, health care, and taxes as their top concerns, the survey says. Nearly one-third say they spend, on average, one full day a week filling out government-related paperwork. Quality of labor, labor cost control, and business financing are issues of lesser importance to the respondents.

While most respondents surveyed say they will probably vote Republican, ``there is a huge chunk [of votes] that could go either way,'' says Sandy Maltby, senior vice president and manager of Small Business Services at Cleveland-based KeyCorp. KeyCorp, one of the largest bank holding companies in the United States, commissioned the survey.

``You might assume that Independents that are small-business owners ... that are concerned with government regulation, might lead to a Republican vote,'' Ms. Maltby says. ``They might perceive that that would decrease the regulation and taxes on their company.''

Eighty-six percent of respondents say they think it is not at all likely that Congress will enact legislation beneficial to small-business owners.

But some small-business leaders say they do see brighter skies ahead. Although 60 percent say running their business has become more difficult during the past year, about 69 percent say they expect their opportunities for economic growth in the next year to improve or stay the same.

Northeasterners are the most pessimistic about their own region, the survey shows: 47 percent of the Northeasterners say their region is worse off than all other areas in the country.

- Shelley Donald Colidge

Clinton makes home-ownership vow

PRESIDENT Clinton, in the home stretch of his campaign to get out votes for Democratic candidates, added a new domestic ``initiative'' to his crowded agenda Saturday, pledging to make home ownership more affordable.

While short on specifics, Mr. Clinton told the National Association of Realtors that ``we commit America to home ownership,'' and ``owning a home is the ultimate expression of optimism.''

Clinton directed Housing Secretary Henry Cisneros to work with the industry to develop a plan within 90 days to ``boost home ownership to an all-time high before the end of the century.''

The president said Mr. Cisneros and the industry would study, among other things, ways of reducing closing costs and bureaucratic regulations for buying homes. The proposal drew polite applause from nearly 5,000 realtors at their annual convention.

Cisneros, speaking later with reporters, defended the timing of the announcement and denied political gimmickry. ``This was the right audience to unveil something we have been developing for months,'' he said.

Clinton, giving a partisan speech to the real estate agents, got a cool reception when he talked about his economic achievements, including large cuts in the federal budget deficit, and his housing proposal. The president pledged to see ``what we can do together to keep the economic renewal that began 21 months ago going.'' Republicans have countered that gross domestic product figures show that the current economic recovery began in 1992, the final year of the Bush presidency.

A White House fact sheet given to reporters said Clinton's home-ownership proposal would find ways to cut costs of both production and financing, including closing costs, ``to put housing prices within reach of more Americans.''

``Many families are paying more in rent than it would cost them to own a home and to build equity, but they can't come up with the front-end money,'' Clinton said. ``We have to do better.''

- Associated Press, Anaheim, Calif.

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