Capitol Update: Impacts of COVID-19 to state government are ‘immense,’ says Sen. Sykes

"The impacts of this pandemic on our state are immense. The steps necessary to slow the virus and protect public health come at great economic cost," said Sen. Dinah Sykes. File photo.

Each legislative session, we provide Shawnee Mission area legislators the opportunity to share their thoughts about what’s happening in the state capitol. Rep. Jerry Stogsdill, Rep. Susan Ruiz and Sen. Dinah Sykes are scheduled to send updates this week. Sen. Sykes’s column is below.

The legislature was to return to Topeka for the veto override session Monday, April 27. The Legislative Coordinating Council, in consultation with public health officials, wisely decided against returning due to health risks. It is not clear if conditions will improve enough for the legislature to safely meet again this year.

The impacts of this pandemic on our state are immense. The steps necessary to slow the virus and protect public health come at great economic cost. Each day I receive emails from people needing state services or dealing with the impact to their small business. I have an unshakable faith that we will make it through this crisis and that Kansans can learn and adapt. Like many of you, I felt humbled and proud of the generosity of a Kansas farmer who sent a N95 mask to New York to do what he could to help.

Kansans are resilient and we know the testing of our resiliency is not over. Our state’s budget was recovering from the failed tax experiment. Last year our governor urged caution because it was not a question of if, but when our state would face economic hardship. On April 20th, the Consensus Revenue Estimating Group released adjustments for fiscal years 2020 and 2021. The group lowered revenue estimates by $1.2 billion. We now face a budget deficit of $653.5 million. The state is already freezing hiring unrelated to COVID-19 response and taking steps to identify savings.

Like many of you, I long for the day when we can return to more normal routines and rhythms of life. While we look forward to the phased reopening of our state, I want to encourage you to do a few simple things that you can do to help our state.

First, the 2020 census is ongoing. Counting all Kansans is essential to making sure our communities receive the resources necessary. Kansas’ self-response rate is 57.9% which is higher than the national self-response rate of 52.4%. If you haven’t yet responded, make sure you do!

With the challenges facing our state, elections are even more important. The people you elect to serve you in county government, Topeka and Washington DC will need to represent your concerns as we make tough decisions. While it may seem odd to mention that now, I wanted to mention it because it is important that you participate in the process to select the leaders who will guide us through the next steps of our recovery.

Second, if you have not yet registered to vote, now is a great time to register. Registering online is simple and easy. Sites like ksvotes.org allow you to complete that registration in minutes. My own son, who will be 18 before the next election, registered and now is a great time to encourage those who are eligible to register.

I hope everyone is also aware of the excellent effort of the Johnson County Election Office to mail out advanced ballot applications to all voters in Johnson County. Given the uncertainty facing us from the pandemic and the way many in our community need to carefully manage risk, these applications should ensure that everyone has an opportunity to safely exercise their right to vote.

Finally, I hope you are finding ways to support your neighbors. We need to continue to work together even while we keep safe physical distance. If you have the means to support local small business and restaurants, I hope you find ways to do that. To the stars through difficulty!