Worcester Business Journal Op-Ed By John Kerry

From corner stores to internet startup companies, small businesses are the backbone of the American economy. And, while Massachusetts small business owners have what it takes to keep our economy strong, they could still use a strong advocate in the federal government to make their case.

That is why we have a Small Business Administration (SBA), a federal agency specifically tasked with championing small businesses. But this year, the President's budget offers little help for the SBA. Overall, they have cut the agency's budget by 45 percent since coming to power in 2001.

Here in Massachusetts, the Administration's proposed cuts have a direct impact on the state's 640,000 small business owners. For example, this budget proposal will reduce the services, counseling, and outreach programs provided by the state's eight Small Business Development Centers, including the one in Worcester. Last year, these centers provided in-depth counseling to more than 4,000 clients, while more than 4,500 individuals attended training sessions which helped to create or retain nearly 1,000 Massachusetts jobs.

The Center for Women and Enterprise in Worcester and Boston will also be pinched. Flat-funding over the last seven years equals real cuts. It's short-sighted not to provide a greater investment in the centers, which in the past decade have generated more than 15,000 jobs and $430 million in wages for Massachusetts.

The budget also lacks funding for loans and venture capital programs. Last year, more than $500 million in loans and venture capital was pumped into some 3,200 Massachusetts businesses through these three programs. And microlending, worthy of a Nobel Peace Prize, was zero-funded again, undermining efforts of the Western Mass Enterprise Fund in Greenfield and the South Eastern Economic Development Corp. on the Cape – top Massachusetts microlenders. This makes no sense given that we're sending microloans to Iraq.

The budget only proposes a token increase in staff to monitor contract bundling and break out contracts for small firms - Massachusetts has just one such staffer. In 2005, Massachusetts received about $9.5 billion in federal contracts. But only $1.5 billion went to small firms and this budget fails to help them do better.

As Chairman of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, I fully intend to hold this Administration's feet to the fire to work on reversing many of their heavy-handed and misguided budget cuts. As I have done in years past, I will continue to fight for small business owners in Massachusetts and across the country, to ensure that the SBA receives more than just table scraps out of the President's $2.9 trillion overall budget.

Small businesses fuel our economy, and Washington has a responsibility to fund the federal programs that help entrepreneurs start, maintain, and grow their business. The bottom line is that the President's budget doesn't get the job done for Massachusetts. Instead, I will work for meaningful investment in the resources that will help Bay State small businesses remain innovative and competitive in a changing global marketplace.

U.S. Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) is the chairman of the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship.