Thursday, January 28, 2010

The State of the (Muse)Union

[Image via**]

Yesterday US President Barack Obama gave his first State of the Union Address. As anticipated a large portion of his speech was devoted to the economy, including two of Museos Unite's favorite topics, job creation and debt forgiveness.

So what specifically can we expect to see in the next 3 years? And how will this affect museos?

In terms of job creation Obama is focusing on "green jobs", infrastructure, and small businesses.

But I realize that for every success story, there are other stories, of men and women who wake up with the anguish of not knowing where their next paycheck will come from, who send out resumes week after week and hear nothing in response. That is why jobs must be our No. 1 focus in 2010, and that's why I'm calling for a new jobs bill tonight.

Now, the true engine of job creation in this country will always be America's businesses. But government can create the conditions necessary for businesses to expand and hire more workers.

We should start where most new jobs do — in small businesses, companies that begin when — companies that begin when an entrepreneur — when an entrepreneur takes a chance on a dream, or a worker decides it's time she became her own boss. Through sheer grit and determination, these companies have weathered the recession, and they're ready to grow. But when you talk to small business owners in places like Allentown, Pa., or Elyria, Ohio, you find out that even though banks on Wall Street are lending again, they're mostly lending to bigger companies. Financing remains difficult for small business owners across the country, even those that are making a profit.

So tonight, I'm proposing that we take $30 billion of the money Wall Street banks have repaid and use it to help community banks give small businesses the credit they need to stay afloat. I'm also proposing a new small business tax credit — one that will go to over 1 million small businesses who hire new workers or raise wages. While we're at it, let's also eliminate all capital gains taxes on small business investment, and provide a tax incentive for all large businesses and all small businesses to invest in new plants and equipment.

Most museums are small businesses, albeit nonprofit ones. This is more Kat's area of expertise than it is mine, but my impression is that because nonprofits are already tax exempt any incentives to hire new workers or raise wages would not apply to museums. I could be mistaken here. The jobs bill as it was passed by the House does not seem to mention nonprofits, but of course the bill is not yet in its final form. Perhaps there will be other allowances made to encourage increased hiring and better wages in nonprofits. We can only hope.

Or can we do more than hope? One of the benefits of belonging to a labor union is that unions lobby for their members' interests. US museos may not have a union, but we do have an advocacy organization: the AAM. The AAM has done an excellent job of motivating its members to stand up against the Coburn Amendment. It has provided a free online webinar on museum advocacy and even explicitly outlines its legislative agenda, including nonprofit issues.

We at Museos Unite call on the AAM to reevaluate their legislative priorities, particularly those pertaining to nonprofit issues. We need to ensure that museums and other nonprofits are not left out of the jobs bill. In the interim, all US museos (and other nonprofit employees) should make use of the resources available on the AAM website to reach out to their elected officials. Whether this effort is backed by our largest advocacy organization or not, someone needs to make a stand. We need to raise our voices and tell Congress that we don't want to be left out of this new cycle of job creation. Nonprofits also need incentives to create new jobs and increase wages, because they're certainly not doing either of these things without them.***

It seems to me that Congress should be interested in promoting nonprofit employment, if only so that the debt forgiveness program isn't simply empty rhetoric. Here's what Obama said in last night's speech:
And let's tell another 1 million students that when they graduate, they will be required to pay only 10 percent of their income on student loans, and all of their debt will be forgiven after 20 years — and forgiven after 10 years if they choose a career in public service, because in the United States of America, no one should go broke because they chose to go to college.
It's worth noting that this debt forgiveness program has actually been in place since 2007, but who is included under the plan remains hazy. "Public service" is a vague term that may or may not include nonprofit employees. No firm definitions have been forthcoming because no one can really benefit from the program until 2017. This is unfortunate, as I for one would like to know if I'm better off making larger payments (so I accrue less interest) or smaller ones (so more of my debt is ultimately forgiven) in the interim. Alas.

How do you think the proposals from last night's State of the Union will affect museos? Will the AAM step up? Will you? Let us know in the comments.

**If you don't understand the graphic, you must be forgiven for not following the thousands of internet memes that go around these days. (This one is based on that terrible "Shots Everybody" song.)

***But first we need to acknowledge that more jobs and better wages are something we desperately need.

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