When the coronavirus hit Ohio, Governor Mike DeWine acted swiftly to limit the state’s exposure, “flatten the curve,” and avert a crisis that threatened to overwhelm our hospitals and medical system. That bold action has proven largely successful, with Ohio suffering fewer cases and fewer deaths than some of our neighbors. We now need bold, decisive action and leadership to treat COVID-19’s other pernicious side effects—an economic recession and rampant unemployment.
Ohio’s unemployment rate peaked at almost 18% in April, and currently stands at nearly 14%. Nationally, job losses are on par with the Great Depression, but suffered in a matter of weeks, not years. Although everyone hopes that much of the current unemployment is short-lived, some jobs may never return, some businesses may never reopen, and employers and employees must all adjust to a “new normal” as the state economy tries to recuperate.
Bold leadership can and should do a number of things to help. And quickly.
Liability protection for businesses that take reasonable precautions to keep customers and employees safe from the virus will give businesses more confidence in reopening sooner rather than later. As businesses open their doors, they should not face the risk of virus-related lawsuits and liability if they take reasonable precautions.
The Ohio House and Senate recently passed different bills providing enhanced liability protection for businesses and health care workers.
The sooner the General Assembly can agree on a final version and enact these protections, the better. Waiting until the fall to do so is a mistake. Both chambers should convene over the summer to resolve the differences and provide employers with the protections they need to revive the economy.
Reducing some of the state’s corporate tax burden will help businesses already struggling to rehire workers and pay their bills. The state’s commercial activities tax (CAT) taxes gross receipts, not profits. That means that even businesses that will not make a profit this year due to this unprecedented economic shutdown will still be handed a state tax bill—and have less money to pay it. Taxing unprofitable companies is no way to rebuild an economy. Instead, Ohio should suspend collecting the CAT for the year and explore corporate tax reforms that might help businesses deduct losses.
Many of the temporary emergency orders designed to cope with the pandemic should be permanent going forward. Epidemiologists warn that infection rates could rise again later this year and the state’s health system must remain ready. Ohio should permanently rescind its unnecessary occupational licensing restrictions on pharmacists, nurses, and out-of-state doctors. Lifting misguided regulatory requirements will make health care more available and make Ohio more attractive to trained health care professionals.
Similarly, Ohio should maintain and even expand telehealth options that allow remote access to doctors and nurses. Legislation to do this just passed the Ohio House of Representatives.
Telehealth consultations can increase care in rural locations across the state, protect vulnerable populations by reducing exposure in contaminated waiting rooms, and lower the cost of routine doctor visits. A healthier Ohio makes for a stronger Ohio and a faster economic recovery.
As Ohio adapts to the realities of the new normal and prepares for a post-coronavirus future, many businesses and schools seem ready to make fuller use of online resources and virtual work and learning environments. Ohio can encourage telework, telehealth, and online learning by making it easier and more cost-effective for companies to improve broadband quality and expand access to customers, especially in more rural areas. Legislation also recently passed by the Ohio House takes a good step in this direction, making the transition to virtual offices and schools easier and more affordable.
Ohio’s economic road to recovery will be a bumpy one. These unprecedented times require bold, swift leadership not only to prevent a medical crisis, but to stop a bad economic episode from becoming a permanent catastrophe. The governor showed courage and resolve at the beginning of the crisis. That same bold resolve will be needed now as Ohio looks to get back to work quickly and safely.
Rea S. Hederman Jr. Is the executive director of the Economic Research Center at The Buckeye Institute in Columbus and vice president of policy.
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