Small business owners across southeast and south-central Montana spoke out on issues concerning the viability of their companies in a survey by the Montana Small Business Alliance.

The majority of 100 small business owners surveyed said they need more customers to help them create jobs and that big corporations pay less than their fair share of taxes. And an overwhelming number felt that unlimited corporate spending on political advertising hurts small businesses, according to the survey data released Tuesday.

Survey questions covered topics ranging from what small businesses need to create jobs to how to strengthen Social Security to whether a speculation tax should be instituted on Wall Street traders.

Alliance leader Sam Blair said the survey’s goal is to get small businesses involved in the national conversation while Congress addresses fiscal issues in the year’s closing weeks. The Montana alliance is part of the Main Street Alliance, a network of small business coalitions with affiliates in 10 states.

“They’re (Congress) hearing from… K Street lobbyists all the time, and they’ve been hearing from Wall Street, too,” Blair said. The organization wants “to speak up and have small business needs and voices considered in the last few weeks” of the congressional session.

Out of the survey respondents, 42 percent said more customers are what small businesses need most to create jobs and “help get the economy back on track,” while 26 percent said lower taxes and 23 percent said fewer regulations would be most helpful.

Nearly 60 percent said they would support Congress closing corporate tax loopholes rather than making more budget cuts. The vast majority — 75 percent — said unlimited political spending by corporations was bad for small businesses.

The survey’s release was coordinated with a group of business owners delivering a letter to the Billings offices of Montana’s congressional delegation.

“As Congress faces a year-end fiscal showdown, we urge you to listen to Main Street, not Wall Street,” the letter reads. “(We) need a healthy customer base. We need educated workers. We need physical infrastructure that will carry us forward for the next 50 years. What we do not need, and our country cannot afford, is more tax giveaways for the rich and big corporations.”

The letter was signed by 30 businesspeople from Billings to Missoula, mostly in the retail and food industries, but also some light manufacturing.

In response to the letter and survey, Sen. Jon Tester’s office released a statement that expressed the need for Congress to simplify the tax code so small businesses can compete with big businesses on a level playing field.

Sen. Max Baucus gave a speech at the “Fix the Debt” conference Tuesday in Washington, D.C., that covered tax reform in part. He called for permanently extending middle-class tax cuts, according to a transcript of the speech.

“We should not put off the hard decisions with gimmicks or triggers. That’s what got us here in the first place,” Baucus said, according to a transcript of the speech. “It’s time to bite the bullet and make the tough decisions, and make them now.”

Jason Bacaj may be reached at jasonb@dailychronicle.com or 582-2635.