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Covid-19’s economic impact on Utahns must be addressed now

By Jon Huntsman

Published March 16, 2020, Salt Lake Tribune

Utah’s economic resilience has been demonstrated before, but now, we are in uncharted territory and we need uncharted solutions. With diminished supply chains, quarantined customers and forced closures, small businesses, hourly workers and many other Utahns are facing an economic crisis along with this viral pandemic. 

With the Federal Reserve cutting interest rates to effectively zero, the federal government is taking steps to counteract the negative effects of COVID-19 on the national economy. As Utahns do their part to slow the spread of the virus, there are important steps we should take at the state level to protect Utah’s economy, as well. 

Over the last few months, I’ve met with business leaders, entrepreneurs and farmers who are prepared to make Utah the Crossroads of the World as innovators, exporters and producers. We will not let this challenge stand in our way.

Here are some of the steps we should consider taking to minimize the impact of an unprecedented disruption to our state economy: 

Economic Response Team – We need the best minds from around Utah, including federal and local government leaders, representatives from businesses of all sizes, and across all sectors. This group should be convened and led by the governor, not delegated. 

Federal Stimulus – Utah should take full advantage of the federal stimulus packages, applying those funds for paid sick leave, food programs, unemployment benefits and import/export programs. 

Rainy Day –  For many years, state leaders have methodically built up emergency funds. We should consider utilizing a portion of the Rainy Day fund to provide relief for small business. Some large businesses have closed until April. They can afford to do that. Smaller businesses cannot. We should have their backs. 

Utilities – Some utility companies have already announced they will suspend disconnections until April. We should strongly encourage all local utilities to follow that lead and explore ways to provide relief on any other fees for the time being. 

Banks – Financial institutions can do tremendous good by providing working capital lines of credit at zero interest to ensure the survival of small businesses. They can help Utah workers in the hardest-hit economic sectors by extending late payment deadlines and providing better terms for lines of credit. 

Property Tax – There may be ways to stabilize the housing industry by extending or eliminating property tax payments on the first year of new home purchases and extending the five-year default schedule for other property tax payments. This could make a significant difference for businesses and families.

Sales Tax – Our hospitality industry is certain to be one of the most heavily impacted sectors. To provide relief, we should explore the impacts of instituting sales tax relief for the event, restaurant and hotel industries, as well as any businesses that have been mandated to close.

Remote work – Technology has made this more of a reality for many years. In the coming weeks, it will be critical for businesses to adapt to options that allow business to be conducted without employees congregating. We should help businesses learn from one another by highlighting best practices. 

Home Deliveries – One of the essential services that will help our community succeed during these trying times will be home deliveries of necessary goods to those who are quarantined or high risk. We should consider eliminating sales tax on home deliveries for 6 months – this will benefit the business as well as the consumer. 

Payroll tax incentives – We need to be creative and proactive in supporting businesses that are making monumental efforts to support employees at this time.   

This list should serve as a starting point for robust discussions. With the right leadership and engagement from industries eager to lend expertise, there is no doubt the most effective steps can be identified and implemented quickly. We must address the financial impact of this crisis now before Utah businesses, communities and families are irreparably harmed. 

Keeping an eye on the economic health of our state in the months ahead will be as important as keeping us safe from the health effects of coronavirus. If we act swiftly and decisively, Utah can minimize the damage done by COVID-19 and restore full health to our economy quicker than expected.