Is Bloomberg really the best potential candidate for U.S. startups?

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While Michael Bloomberg’s political platform is yet to be fully outlined for a possible presidential campaign, many in the startup community assume he would be the most tech friendly among the roster of candidates. Called an “entrepreneur’s entrepreneur” by TouchCast’s Erick Shonfeld, his Bloomberg Terminal for financial markets has been called the original SaaS business, or the ‘original startup.’ As mayor, he oversaw New York’s surge during the 2000s to compete with Silicon Valley, including initiating the building of the Cornell-Technion campus in New York, which he also donated $100 million to last year. He is also an investor in Andreessen Horowitz, which holds assets across Silicon Valley and in the country’s two main ride sharing companies, Uber and Lyft.

But should we just presume his record makes him the default candidate for Silicon Valley? While this isn’t an exhaustive survey, we will try to provide a snapshot of what the current five other viable candidates — Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio — are offering technologists and entrepreneurs. There are so many details that couldn’t be simply jampacked into this article, but links are provided. Demand more answers out of the campaigns as the battle continues, especially if you expect California’s electoral votes to hinge on how Silicon Valley decides to split its voice in a three-way race come November.

Made in NY? Tax benefits

Michael Bloomberg at Midtown Comics when he was mayor of New York on November 17, 2010 (Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons)
Michael Bloomberg at Midtown Comics when he was mayor of New York on November 17, 2010 (Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons)

Michael Bloomberg was conscious of the tech community in New York when he was mayor, including bringing the Cornell-Technion tech campus to the city and overseeing the implementation of tax breaks for startups. “To spur entrepreneurship in New York City, we’re already providing startups with specialized training, physical space and tax breaks, and now we’re adding capital investments to go along with it,” Bloomberg said when introducing the $22 million NYC Entrepreneurial Fund in May 2010. You can judge whether or not that’s a significant financial commitment from a city like New York. At the time, it was the first municipal investment fund outside of Silicon Valley.

On taxes in general, Bloomberg  has said, “Taxes are not good things, but if you want services, somebody’s got to pay for them, so they’re a necessary evil.” What’s particularly interesting about Bloomberg’s tax policies is that he isn’t exactly an anti-tax fiscal conservative — he slashed taxes and reimplemented them, based on what he saw as the needs of the city. Taxes would be a big question for an independent candidate running from the center of the political spectrum, especially with the mainly anti-tax, anti-regulation Republican candidates.

Ted Cruz wants to repeal corporate taxes altogether and replacing them with one flat tax for businesses in order to stop “driving jobs and business overseas,” though he doesn’t mention startups or innovation. Marco Rubio wants small business taxes at 25% while also cutting regulations on the sharing economy and other “innovators”. Donald Trump’s platform declares “too many companies – from great American brands to innovative startups – are leaving America, either directly or through corporate inversions,” a phenomenon he plans to fight with a flat 15% corporate tax.

Donald Trump vs. Ted Cruz vs. Marco Rubio, using the latest in fictional technology to decide whose tax plans are the best
Donald Trump vs. Ted Cruz vs. Marco Rubio, using the latest in fictional technology to decide whose tax plans are the best

Not surprisingly, Democrats are far more tax happy. But Hillary Clinton has been far more specific and aware of startups and other buzzwords in the tech world from what we have gathered. Clinton proposes capital gains tax reforms that at an NYU speech in July 2015 would help “innovative startups” to encourage investors who are “patiently nurturing the next disruptive innovator.” The Sanders campaign has not made any references to startup tax rates or the capital gains from investments specifically in small businesses with high growth potential.

Otherwise, both Democrats are eager to raise taxes on the wealthiest individuals in the United States. Interestingly, 2/3 of millionaires would actually like to see taxes on the wealthy increased, according to a CNBC poll from 2014. 

Bloomberg vs. Sanders and Clinton on smart cities; net neutrality still a mystery

CNN Democratic presidential debate features candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton at Wynn Las Vegas, October 13, 2015 (image, ID: 328825145; credit: Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock.com)
CNN Democratic presidential debate features candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton at Wynn Las Vegas, October 13, 2015 (image credit: Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock.com)

On the topic of smart cities, Bloomberg announced his philanthropy’s initiative What Works Cities urging cities to use big data to forge new health and environmental policy. He started by lauding Louisville, Kentucky and San Francisco for working with emerging technologies to gather information about air pollution and then New Orleans for tracking abandoned properties.

“City governments have a responsibility to make the most of every dollar, and data helps them do that,” he wrote in the Huffington Post. “When cities keep close track of their progress, they can quickly change course when programs don’t work as expected, rather than throwing good money after bad.” He goes on to urge sharing collected data with citizens and companies “to create new products and public services that make cities better places to live.”

What Works Cities, a Bloomberg Philanthropy, is working with several American cities to collect and share data for entrepreneurs and public services: Anchorage, AK; Bellevue, WA; Cambridge, MA; Chattanooga, TN; Denton, TX; Denver, CO; Independence, MO; Jackson, MS; Kansas City, MO; Las Vegas, NV; Lexington, KY; Louisville, KY; Mesa, AZ; New Orleans, LA; Saint Paul, MN; San Jose, CA; San Francisco, CA; Seattle, WA; Tacoma, WA; Tulsa, OK; Waco, TX
What Works Cities, a Bloomberg Philanthropy, is working with several American cities to collect and share data for entrepreneurs and public services.

Bloomberg’s weak point might be on digital infrastructure, paradoxically. The 2012 New Tech City report cited poor bandwidth as a major threat to New York’s sudden return to the top of the charts for new companies, with some businesses surveyed saying they couldn’t leave Manhattan for Brooklyn because of even poorer connection speeds. Despite Bloomberg’s launch of ConnectNYC in 2012 to address that, the complaint dovetails with criticism he was too focused on Manhattan when he was mayor over the other boroughs.

Bloomberg left office in mid-2013, leaving his successor to come up with the LinkNYC initiative that is converting abandoned payphones into Wi-Fi hotspots throughout New York. It's hard to tell if Bloomberg would  advocate for public, high-speed internet based on this record. (CC BY 3.0, Wikimedia Commons)
The LinkNYC converts abandoned payphones into Wi-Fi hotspots throughout New York, but was implemented after Bloomberg’s term. (CC BY 3.0, Wikimedia Commons)

Clinton especially has a formidable infrastructure and smart city platforms that would challenge Bloomberg.

Hillary Clinton is big on smart cities. Her personal site illustrates an infrastructure plan that would give “all American households access to world-class broadband and creating connected ‘smart cities’ with infrastructure that’s part of tomorrow’s Internet of Things” that includes investments in things like smart electrical grids, smart ports and airports and smart roads for the “connected cars of tomorrow.” Bernie Sanders’ January 2015 Rebuild America Act invests “$5 billion a year to expand high-speed broadband networks into underserved and unserved areas and to boost speeds and capacity in served areas” and supports billions of dollars in infrastructure upgrades for highways, airports and water, among other priorities.

Rubio and Cruz categorically oppose public broadband companies, signing a 2014 letter in the Senate opposing FCC help for public companies operating in Chattanooga, Tennessee and Wilson, North Carolina. Those companies have contended with industry lobbyists trying to limit their ability to operate. Rubio has gone into more detail about how he would “reallocate wireless spectrum controlled by the federal government” to help public internet companies, though that could benefit monopolies like Comcast rather than smaller tech startups.

While Bloomberg has also not said much personally (if anything at all) about net neutrality and public internet, one of the smart cities participating in What Works Cities is, you guessed it, Chattanooga, Tennessee. If Bloomberg battled with Cruz or Rubio, expect that city to come up in the debates. Since late 2014, net neutrality has been a fiercely partisan issue after the FCC’s five commissioners voted down party lines to enforce it. Democrats support it for anti-trust reasons. Republicans hate it because of government regulation.

 Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) (image, ID: 180966959; credit, Christopher Halloran / Shutterstock.com)
Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) (image credit, Christopher Halloran / Shutterstock.com)

Ted Cruz called net neutrality “Obamacare for the internet” in a November 2014 tweet, and Marco Rubio and Donald Trump have also spoken against net neutrality.

Hillary Clinton wrote in Quartz in October that she wanted “enforcing strong net neutrality rules” that would “enable startups to challenge the status quo.” Bernie Sanders says “net neutrality has prohibited big Internet corporations from favoring or blocking certain viewpoints or websites.

Opening American immigration to recruit more tech talent

Donald Trump speaks at Americans for Prosperity's Freedom Summit in Manchester, NH, on April 12, 2014 (image, ID: 298502474; credit: Andrew Cline / Shutterstock.com)
Donald Trump speaks at Americans for Prosperity’s Freedom Summit in Manchester, NH, on April 12, 2014 (image credit: Andrew Cline / Shutterstock.com)

Bloomberg advocated for larger free agent recruitment of non-New York talent to move to the city when he was mayor. That relates to his well-publicized and tax incentive-laden pitch to Goldman Sachs to move their headquarters from New Jersey to Lower Manhattan in the mid-2000s. Like Mark Zuckerberg, he supports loosening the requirements for foreign professionals to get H-1B work visas and supported the 2013 virtual march on Washington to push for that cause.

“Likewise, we want entrepreneurs with innovative ideas to start their companies here in America, creating jobs for American workers,” Michael Bloomberg said in 2013, lauding what he said were the 40% of Fortune 500 companies founded by first and second generation immigrants. “But there is no visa for immigrant entrepreneurs to come here and launch their companies.”

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders speaks at a rally in Concord, New Hampshire, on November 5, 2015, after filing to run in the Democratic presidential primary. (image ID: 335861132; credit: Andrew Cline / Shutterstock.com)
Senator Bernie Sanders speaks at a rally in Concord, New Hampshire, on November 5, 2015, after filing to run in the Democratic presidential primary. (image credit: Andrew Cline / Shutterstock.com)

Bloomberg’s approach directly contradicts Trump’s, who wants to restrict H-1B visas and require a higher wage for foreign workers to deter hiring them. Cruz’s H-1B position may be a red flag for startups: he plans a 180-day suspension of H-1B issuances to audit how companies have used them over the last 15 years, and then adding a 1-2 year delay between laying off an American and granting visas for foreign replacements, issuing penalties to companies that “misuse” the system and imposing stricter accreditation rules for foreign degrees. The real challenge though isn’t just Democratic – it’s from Bernie Sanders.

While Clinton’s immigration platform does not mention H-1B visas, but Democratic rival Sanders supports H-1B reforms and raising the required wage for visa holders, presumably to offer them fairer wages. Most notably for startups, Sanders would let professional visa holders move between companies if the opportunity presented itself, a major perk Bloomberg might not match.

“Binding workers to a specific employer or not allowing their family members to work creates a situation rife for abuse and exacerbates an already unequal relationship between the employer and the employee.”

Michael Bloomberg vs. Donald Trump vs. Bernie Sanders vs. Hillary Clinton vs. Ted Cruz vs. Marco Rubio

Bloomberg’s chops are advanced when it comes to promoting technology in New York City and for cities across the country. But Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are up to speed on digital infrastructure, and Marco Rubio is leveraging the advantages of deregulation and tax breaks for startups. Cruz and Trump are also championing lower taxes, but the three Republican candidates’ stances on net neutrality and immigration probably aren’t what Silicon Valley is looking for.

Based on pure experience, Bloomberg is the most familiar with the tech sector. But if you are passionate about net neutrality, public internet, deregulation, or tax breaks — or any other issues that strongly impact your vote — your vote could be swayed more to the left or the right.  At this moment in time, it seems like Bloomberg, Clinton, Sanders, or Rubio are the most Silicon Valley friendly. If you’re a fan of Trump or Cruz and passionate about startups, you may want them to show more commitment to tech policies.

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