Dear Professor Bruce: I own a small business. Given the upcoming 2012 elections, what should I ask political candidates so I can make an informed decision in voting?

Answer: No matter what political party you belong to, one thing everyone can agree on is that politicians of all stripes are very good at creating new laws and regulations — and at constantly changing existing ones. But there are many different kinds of politicians.

Steven Mason, president of The Brand Mason, a strategy, positioning and naming firm with many small-business owners and entrepreneurs as clients, says the answer depends on whether the political contest is local, statewide or national.

“The outcomes of local elections for mayors, members of the city council and school boards affect your license fees, property taxes, and ability to use your home as a place of business. Don’t ask local candidates about broader state or federal issues, because what they believe about policies they don’t control doesn’t matter. Instead, focus on issues that will directly affect your pocketbook and your profit margins.”

Statewide elections for governors and state legislatures are different. They typically affect your state income, estate and sales taxes, as well as exemptions. Politicians can also mandate types of insurance coverage, higher worker compensation costs and the like. Ask candidates where they stand on these specific statewide issues.

When it comes to the presidential and congressional elections, Mason points out, “small businesses need to be concerned about runaway lawsuit costs, the debate over national health insurance mandates, the expiring Bush-era tax cuts, prospective increases in the estate and capital gains taxes and, if they are in the manufacturing business, the definition of the proper role of the federal agencies such as the EPA.”

The bottom line: Ask candidates about the issues upon which their votes will make a difference, for good or for bad. The president doesn’t make policies for your town and your mayor doesn’t make policies for the federal government.

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• Bruce Freeman, The Small Business Professor, is president of ProLine Communications, a marketing firm in Livingston, N.J. E-mail

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