Four stories to keep an eye on in 2013

Tuesday, December 18, 2012
Marquette Transportation's Cindy L. Erickson travels under the Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge as it transports barges north on the Mississippi River Monday, Nov. 12, 2012 in Cape Girardeau. (Laura Simon)

Businesses small and large will have some tough issues to navigate during 2013. From health care to environmental regulations there are many unanswered questions contributing to an uneasy feeling that could continue to stifle economic growth.

Health care

Following the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to uphold federal health care reform laws and the re-election of President Barack Obama, many businesses are concerned about how this will affect their bottom line as implementation moves forward. Beginning in 2014 small businesses with fewer than 100 employees will be able to buy health care coverage for employees in federally supervised health insurance exchanges, but businesses with more than 50 employees will pay a fine if they don't offer health insurance.

Fiscal cliff

In recent months, political rhetoric has focused on the "Fiscal Cliff," the term used to describe the dilemma that the U.S. government will face at the end of 2012, when the terms of the Budget Control Act of 2011 are scheduled to go into effect.

Among the laws scheduled to change at midnight Dec. 31, 2012, are the end of last year's temporary payroll tax cuts, resulting in a 2 percent tax increase for workers, the end of certain tax breaks for businesses, shifts in the alternative minimum tax and the end of tax cuts passed from 2001 to 2003, and the beginning of taxes related to President Obama's health care law. At the same time, the spending cuts agreed upon as part of the debt ceiling deal of 2011 will start to go into effect.

Among the business tax increases, an estimated 940,000 Americans will report more than $200,000 in business income on their individual tax returns in 2013 and pay at the top tax rates, according to the bipartisan Joint Committee on Taxation.

President Obama wants the two upper tax brackets to rise from 33 percent and 35 percent to 36 percent and 39.6 percent, respectively. Republicans staunchly oppose any increase, largely citing the impact on small businesses.

Increasing regulation

Throughout 2012, businesses face uncertainty as the Environmental Protection Agency continued to consider lowering the federal ozone standard. In September 2012, they got a temporary reprieve as the Obama administration announced the existing standard of 75 parts per billion, established in 2008 under the Bush Administration, would remain in place.

However, the EPA routinely establishes new allowable pollutant levels every five years, so 2013 will bring more ozone anxiety and could result in tougher standards.

The summer of 2012 brought record heat to the Midwest and Southeast Missouri, a key ingredient in the formation of ozone.

After exceeding the standards for ground-level ozone just three times in 2011, the Perry County monitor posted 14 exceedances in 2012, bringing the area's design value -- the measure used to determine compliance -- above the current standard at 77 parts per billion.

River shutdown

Traffic on the liquid highway that is the Mississippi River soon may come to a halt costing businesses and putting jobs in jeopardy. Historically low water levels are expected to drop even more as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reduced the outflow from the Missouri River in South Dakota. The low water already has forced those who rely on the river to ship lighter loads that sit higher in the water. Local companies are feeling the strain.

Months of drought have left water levels up to 20 feet below normal along a 180-mile stretch of the river from St. Louis to Cairo, Ill. An outcropping of rocks near Thebes, Ill., has been the focal point of this problem. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is scheduled to blast and remove these rock pinnacles, but it remains to be seen if this can be done before businesses face consequences, or if low water issues will emerge elsewhere along the river.

It isn't just the shipping and grain industries that will be affected. Store prices and utility bills could rise. And deliveries of everything from road-clearing rock salt for winter and fertilizer for the spring planting season could be late and in short supply.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: