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Kansas lockdown shrinks economy, needs post-COVID-19 reforms


Governor Kelly extended her statewide lockdown into May amidst signs that 25% of small businesses feel they are weeks away from closing permanently.  Now, new data details how difficult it’s been for Kansas businesses and families to make ends meet. According to these estimates, COVID-19 and, in no small part, government lockdowns have closed half of Kansas local businesses, cutting hourly jobs by half.

The information comes from a company called Homebase, a scheduling and time tracking tool used by more than 100,000 businesses and their hourly employees. Homebase’s client base primarily consists of individually-owned restaurants, entertainment, and retail venues. Homebase estimated three metrics for states and major metropolitan areas; “Local Businesses Open,” “Hourly Employees Working,” and “Hours Worked By Hourly Employees”. Homebase records the percent difference in these metrics compared to their January 2020 levels.

As of April 12th, voluntary action, as well as government lockdown measures due to COVID-19, has taken a significant toll on the Kansas economy.  Compared to January levels, hours worked by hourly employees are down 72%. Hourly employees working are down 66%. Kansas open local businesses are down 62%.  See a table of this chart at the end of the post.

lockdownThe COVID outbreak demands that the government play a role in reducing transmission rates and keeping Kansans safe. However, we shouldn’t ignore the fact that government actions can have consequences aside from the laudable goal of public health. The government must strike a balance between saving lives and saving livelihoods. If true that 38% of Kansas local businesses are open today, then it suggests a more targeted approach might be beneficial.

Once the COVID-19 outbreak passes, Kansas policymakers should immediately pivot and help kickstart the Kansas economy as soon as possible. Specific policy reforms can give Kansans the flexibility to come back stronger than ever before.

Regulatory Recommendations

Pass a version of HB 2506 to create a Kansas universal recognition in occupational licensing. Kansas would then allow anyone with an occupational license in another state to work immediately.

Make permanent any regulations waived in reaction to COVID-19 unless there is evidence that a waiver caused public harm.25. Pass the Kansas Nurse Practice Act ( HB 2066 from the 2019 session). It allows Advanced Practice Registered Nurses to practice without a Collaborative Practice Agreement with a physician.

Have state and local permitting function as “shall issue”. It allows businesses to (re)open without waiting for inspections, application delays, etc.

Eliminate any state or local inspections required to re-open a business that closed due to COVID-19.

Create a one-stop-shop in the State Department of Commerce. The goal is to coordinate federal, state, and local permitting for new businesses, business expansions, or business reopenings.

Implement a statewide “self-certification” model. Architects, contractors, and engineers will see a streamlined permitting process. If they agree to random audits, they can submit plans and walk out with a permit on the same visit.

Relax local zoning regulations and ordinances to make it easier for Kansans to operate businesses from their own homes.

These regulatory considerations are but part of a larger, expanding list of recommendations that state and local policymakers should consider. Click here for a list that includes budget, governance, and educational reforms aimed at getting Kansas back to work and school.

Kansas continues to endure the government lockdown and approaches the peak of COVID-19 transmission. However, policymakers should not ignore the plight of Kansas families and workers. Despite the signs of an economic recession, there remains an opportunity for Kansas. Policymakers must foster the creation of new businesses and entice a new wave of innovation and prosperity for all once the public health crisis is over.