Ask local accountants about business trends in 2008, and the talk often turns toward the larger — and more disturbing — subject of the economy.

It’s not hard to see the signs. From the harried waitress trying to figure out how to keep her car running, to the small business owner budgeting for the skyrocketing cost of good employee healthcare coverage, there is worry on the faces of this town, state and country.

“An employee whose home life is suffering due to money issues that have become unbearable is becoming more unhappy and more depressed,” says Bill Hesch, a CPA and attorney, who manages his accounting and law firm in Oakley Square. “This carries over to the workplace in numerous ways, resulting in less productivity and profitability for employers.”

Randy Howard is director of Howard & Nunn, an Anderson-based firm that works with individuals, partnerships and corporations in taxation and accounting. He says he sees families struggling financially, afraid for their future.

“People are like deer in the headlights,” he says.

It’s the caring side of accounting, and many in the profession are doing everything they can to help clients individually and corporately to survive in an unforgiving economy.

Hesch provides financial planning services to individuals and small to medium size businesses. He is certified by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants as a Personal Financial Specialist, which means he has at least 1,400 hours of the specialized business acumen and has passed a rigorous exam.

Hesch believes employer flexibility and creativity are assets in a weak economy.

“CPAs — trained to assist companies in managing their business to maximize profits — can use the same financial management techniques in providing financial planning services to employers and their employees,” he says.

Hesch is full of ideas. Things like shifting to a four-day, 10-hour workweek to save employee commuting costs, creating overtime opportunities for high-performing employees to supplement incomes and retain them, and even getting rid of underperformers so that the best employees get more work and compensation. As part of his practice, Hesch also helps employers provide educational financial planning seminars for employees with the goal of personal financial freedom.

Hesch is especially concerned right now about those with low to medium incomes.He says that people who are struggling financially must figure a way to balance their budget.

It may involve taking a second job, downsizing to a smaller house or a less flashy car, or seeking a higher paying job — or one that is closer to home, to save on gas money. It’s all in the interest of becoming fiscally responsible. “They need to live below their means,” Hesch says.

Great ways to treat the symptoms, but what exactly is ailing our economy?

Howard has a few ideas. And most of them have to do with government. “Many times in our profession we get so dulled by the federal oversight and regulations that we decide it’s just easier not to make waves,” Hesch says. “But the time has come to stand up to it.”

Howard has been in practice since 1973. He says in the past two decades, there have been 18 new tax bills, 10 of which made major changes to tax laws. The complexity of the laws — and the mounds of accompanying paperwork —are overwhelming small businesses.

Howard is particularly worried about Ohio’s new Commercial Activity Tax (CAT), a part of the state’s tax reform plan. The CAT calls for the implementation of a replacement business tax to supplement state and local coffers, which took a hit when tangible personal property tax was eliminated for general businesses. The annual tax on a business’s net gross receipts from activity within the state of Ohio became effective in 2005, with full implementation by April 1, 2009.

“The CAT will not unfairly shift the tax burden to either businesses or individuals, or unduly burden any one business sector or size of business within the state,” according to the Ohio Department of Development web site.

But Howard believes small business will bear the brunt of these changes, as they will be liable for taxes from which many were previously exempt under personal property tax statutes. The latter tax was based partly on the value of fixed assets, of which smaller companies have less, while the CAT has a different formula.

“It’s another example where legislators market it to the public as ... we are helping small business when in fact they are hurting them,” he says.

Howard would like to see federal and state legislators consider the real long-term effects of any tax policy before enacted.

He cited a 2003 tax bill Congress passed that offered a $100,000 tax credit for business owners who purchased any vehicle weighing 6,000 pounds or more when fully loaded. Legislators offered another, much smaller, tax break — a $2,000 deduction — to those who purchased fuel-efficient hybrid cars. It may have temporarily helped consumers and auto dealers. But as fuel prices continue to climb, SUVs are becoming albatrosses around their owners’ necks.

“That is a perfect example of a bill that had short-term fixes but is disastrous in the long term,” Howard says.

Perhaps more troubling than a troubling tax credit is overregulation and the resulting burdensome paperwork.

“We have to be more than just CPAs,” Howard says. “I’d like my profession to be more proactive, and less reactive by getting involved before legislation is passed, rather than strict interpretation after the fact.”