Retailers bend Jones’ ear

Published 10:31 pm Thursday, December 9, 2010

Retail Alliance Virginia Del. S. Chris Jones speaks to members of the Retail Alliance Thursday morning at Merrill’s Desserts on E. Washington Street in Downtown Suffolk.

A small group of downtown business leaders gathered early Thursday morning at Merrill’s Desserts to commiserate with each other and with one of their representatives in state government about the problems that come with running a business in today’s economy.

It helped that the person they’d come to listen to and share their stories with is himself a successful business owner who has suffered from the problems associated with competition, government regulation and cashflow.

Delegate S. Chris Jones (R-76th) was eager to listen to the business leaders during an event held by the Retail Alliance, he said Thursday afternoon. And he was quick to share stories of some of the problems he’s faced at the pharmacy he owns in North Suffolk.

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“I was appreciative of them sharing with me,” he said, explaining that understanding the challenges his constituents face makes it easier to know the appropriate positions to take on legislation that comes before the General Assembly in Richmond.

The Suffolk retailers who attended Thursday’s meeting, for example, are concerned with the fairness of the state’s business, professional and occupational license fee, commonly known as the BPOL tax.

The tax is currently charged in 86 of Virginia’s counties and cities and is based on a business’ revenues. They would like to see the tax repealed or at lest altered so that it is charged based on profits, instead.

Those attending also had some interest in the future of Virginia’s alcoholic beverage control stores, though Jones indicated he does not expect another press toward wholesale privatization of those stores in the next Assembly session, which starts in January.

Instead, he said, the state’s budget will continue to consume a huge portion of legislators’ time.

With federal money from the stimulus package running out and Medicaid changes taking effect, legislators are in for “a lot of long days and nights” as they work to reconcile the various budget amendments brought by the governor and other legislators.

Governor Bob McDonnell, a friend of Jones’ for many years, has asked state agencies and departments to report to him with plans to cut their budgets by 2, 4 and 6 percent, and he is expected to deliver his recommendations for budget amendments to legislators by the end of next week.

“Once he does that, we’ll have a better idea,” Jones said.

The friendship that the two have shared, Jones said in a telephone call Thursday afternoon, has been helpful in Richmond, as well, leading each of the men on occasion to seek the other’s advice and counsel.

“I have a very good relationship with the governor,” he said.

And there’s plenty of reason for business owners and others to feel confident about the future, he added.

“God has been good to us in this country, in this state and in this region,” he added Thursday morning.