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Regulation reform could jump-start Kansas economy after COVID

Regulation reform could jump-start Kansas economy after COVID

By Michael Austin.

The COVID-19 outbreak has not only posed a severe public health risk, but actions to combat it now risk a global economic collapse. With nearly half of all Kansas hourly jobs gone, the Kansas Department of Labor is overwhelmed processing unemployment claims. Roughly 40 percent of Kansas small businesses are shuttered, with more than half of them saying they are weeks away from closing permanently.

Kansans need a pathway through this economic disaster. Will we come back stronger than ever before, or fall deep into an economic depression? To paraphrase our state maxim, we can reach for the stars and find better days ahead if we follow the common-sense path.

First, Kansas needs occupational licensing reform, with the most excellent examples of success from Gov. Laura Kelly herself. In March, Kelly waived some licensure requirements, making it easier for physicians to work in Kansas. This fantastic move needs expansion, not a reversal once the virus passes.

From nurses to HVAC technicians, all licensed professionals should be able to work as soon as they cross the border. Good licensing reform protects the public, encourages movement into Kansas, and provides Kansas young adults with a flexible career path.

Kansas needs regulatory reform. Due to the statewide stay-at-home order and voluntary action, countless Kansas businesses shut their doors to “flatten the curve.” Pulling back regulations can prime them to reopen them quickly.

The Kansas Department of Commerce could create a one-stop-shop for all state applications and fees. KDHE and local agencies can fast track the reopening of restaurants with a history of reliable inspections. It takes four and a half weeks to read Kansas state regulations one time (assuming reading 40 hours a week). Allowing businesses to open doors quickly, when public safety allows, gives Kansans precisely what they need to get back to work.

Our leaders must also realize that we need a financially solvent government that encourages the Kansas spirit more than ever. That’s not an invitation for more stimulus, and issuing more debt to Kansans. Such methods didn’t work in 1932 and 2008, and it won’t work today. Kansas policymakers should work to simultaneously grow the rainy day fund while lowering the tax burden on Kansans. That means enforcing performance-based budgeting, matching tax dollars to specific improvements in Kansans’ lives. It also means passing the tax windfall, which rewards Kansas for their donations and gifts during the public health crisis. Finally, restore honesty in property taxation, so Kansans don’t lose their homes when times already are trying.

The COVID-19 outbreak is not a crisis to be seized upon. Any Kansans policy must focus on “flattening the curve” today. Tomorrow, however, we’ll need different guidelines to jump-start the recovery.

Kansas — and America — will recover. The next decade can be better than the last if we give families and businesses the flexibility to grow stronger. Whether the difficulties last for six weeks or six months, our nation’s founders gave us the blueprint to make striving for the stars possible.

Michael Austin is director of the Sandlian Center for Entrepreneurial Government at the Kansas Policy Institute.

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