The opinions expressed in the commentary are the author’s alone.
Kansas is in the midst of a budget crunch of epic proportions — and we all know how and why we got here and who led the charge.
We’ve finally reached the moment when all of our dirty jeans’ pockets have been turned out, the couch cushions have been searched and we have come up empty. When President Obama took office in 2008, many people said he had inherited the greatest financial challenges of any president in a generation. The President Obama of 2008 has nothing on the incoming Kansas Legislature of 2017 (proportionally speaking).
Many of us have already done our part to reverse the damage by voting for moderate candidates who we feel will approach the considerable challenges Kansas will face over the next two years with humility and common sense.
But now, as the victims of an extremist experiment of epic proportions, Kansans and our elected leaders must band together to re-examine and re-invest in the future of our state. It’s now time to ask ourselves where our priorities truly lie — and that’s not an easy question to answer.
As our leaders, legislators need to make tough decisions. But the fact is that no politician can justify an investment in innovation-forward policies to support startups when we can’t keep our basic commitment to fund schools, healthcare or pensions. Investment in economic development is a luxury that we can’t afford.
But to admit this fact is not to suggest that the startup community abandon all efforts to educate legislators about the work that we do. Not every policy change that we can make to better support the startup community comes with a direct cost.
There is a suite of policies that we can afford to enact today, and that’s because they’re free.
It doesn’t cost anything to put limits on the enforcement of non-compete clauses in contracts to encourage labor mobility. It doesn’t cost anything to take a second look at our state’s licensing policies to ensure that these processes protect public health and welfare, rather than keep new businesses from disrupting the status quo. It doesn’t cost anything for the Kansas Board of Regents to encourage member institutions to adopt a “free-agency” licensing policy. Many policies that could encourage new entrepreneurs to start businesses or help existing businesses grow are actually free.
Yes, it’s the Legislature’s responsibility to seek out creative policies that can support our startup community until we can afford to actually invest in creating new programs. But they’ve got a lot to worry about in 2017, and innovation policy probably is not top priority (nor should it be). In this atmosphere, the startup community has an incredible opportunity to educate legislators about the work that we do and to become partners in finding creative solutions to complex problems (which, by the way, is what we do best).
While it’s tempting to step back from the election madness this Wednesday — to breathe a sigh of relief and disengage — the truth is that this is only the beginning.
We all imagine politics could be a system in which the opinions of real experts are respected over those of pundits. That we can all agree to disagree sometimes and still respect each other. To create that system requires our active participation, and not just on one day in November.
So after Election Day, I encourage you to email your state representative or state senator and ask them to sit down over a cup of coffee to talk, just like you would anyone else. Have a real conversation with them about your business, the challenges we face, and how you can contribute to the solution.
Election madness may be over, but our real work is just beginning.
Melissa Roberts is president of Free State Strategy Group, a Kansas City-based firm that offers public relations, content marketing and community-building services. She is also marketing director of the Enterprise Center of Johnson County (ECJC), a not-for-profit organization that connects entrepreneurs with the resources they need to grow and scale.