By Noah Taborda, Kansas Reflector
TOPEKA — A new law will provide $50 million to reimburse Kansas small businesses that suffered early in the COVID-19 pandemic.
The storefront property tax relief law earmarks federal dollars for property tax refunds to businesses affected by forced closure or reduced occupancy during the early wave of COVID-19 cases. With no vaccine available, the Kelly administration and county officials issued orders mandating nonessential stores to reduce mass gatherings.
Backed without opposition in the Senate and with only one vote against it in the House, House Bill 2136 was approved by Gov. Laura Kelly on Thursday. For-profit businesses with pandemic-related losses in 2020 and 2021 are eligible for up to $5,000 in property tax refunds.
“Providing $50 million of financial assistance for small businesses is just one more way my administration is working to make Kansas the most pro-business state in the country,” Kelly said. “The financial assistance legislation I signed today will support our entrepreneurs by ensuring they can make the investments they need to hire workers, strengthen their product lines and better serve their communities.”
Kelly was joined on Kansas Avenue in Topeka by members of the local and state business communities, as well as legislative colleagues. They touted relief the law would provide to businesses undercut by closures.
Businesses that permanently closed could be eligible for assistance under the state initiative. Nonprofits and online companies are ineligible, as are companies that accepted more than $150,000 from the federal, state or local governments during the pandemic.
In passing the law, some Republican legislators, such as Sen. Caryn Tyson, insisted the governor should receive no credit because she decided to close businesses. Kelly brushed aside criticism, arguing she took necessary steps to curb the pandemic.
“As soon as it was clear that we could start reopening and re-energizing our businesses, we did that,” Kelly said. “I know there was a lot of hurt experienced during that period of time. Now we’re just doing more to ensure that we strengthen them even more, so they can go and thrive.”
Many other U.S. governors responded to the pandemic by adopting masking, social distancing, testing and other measures to slow the virus until a vaccine could be produced and distributed.
The law also allows Atchison County to vote on a county-wide sales tax.
Eric Stafford, with the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, said the aid for businesses was due to a joint effort among stakeholders that showed “unwavering commitment to Kansas small businesses.
“On behalf of the Kansas business community, thank you to Gov. Kelly and the Legislature for supporting this legislation,” Stafford said. “It will provide relief for the small businesses that make up the backbone of our state.”
Pedro Concepcion, a Topeka entrepreneur, said this was a step toward revitalizing the small business community.
“COVID was a very impactful thing that happened, and we all suffered through it,” Concepcion said. “But we are Topeka strong. We’re just going to keep going, keep helping each other out and making sure that we succeed.”