Ortt, State Senate Republicans want relief package for restaurants

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 27 January 2021 at 11:55 am

Governor faulted for ‘catastrophic policy’ that Ortt and colleagues say has shuttered many hospitality businesses

State Senate Leader Robert Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, and his GOP colleagues in the State Senate are pushing a relief package for the restaurant industry.

Since the state imposed restrictions on indoor dining last March, more than 8,000 restaurants have closed in the state, including 4,500 in New York City, resulting in a loss of 365,000 jobs in the state, said State Sen. George Borrello, a Republican from Chautauqua County.

“This has been a pandemic issue that has been exacerbated by catastrophic policy,” he said.

Borrello, a restaurant owner in Sunset Bay, and Ortt said the restaurant industry has suffered from state policies that have unnecessarily curtailed business. They spoke during a press conference in Albany on Tuesday.

“This is truly an emergency,” Borrello said.

He said the governor’s own statistics show only 1.4 percent of the recent Covid spread is from restaurants, while more than 70 percent is attributed to indoor home gatherings.

“This is not a policy that is working for our economy or for the public health,” Borrello said about the restrictions on restaurants.

The Senate Republican Conference unveiled a package of legislation called “Reset New York’s Restaurant and Hospitality Industry.”

Besides the hundreds of thousands of workers who have lost jobs and wages in the restaurant and hospitality industry during the pandemic, the industry is the main slaes tax generator in New York City and is second for the state.

“Unfortunately, our Governor does not seem to understand how important these restaurants, hotels, and their employees are to making our economy function,” Borrello said. “Using his executive authority, the Governor has put extremely damaging and burdensome restrictions on the industry without outlining any plan for how government will help reverse the damage it created.  The Senate Democrats have been a voiceless non-entity in this situation, devoid of any plan of their own or proactive initiative to help. It’s high time state government – including the State Senate – roll up our sleeves and begin to restart, rethink, and renew our commitment to restaurants and hospitality businesses to make our State thrive again.”

The Senate Republican proposals for the restaurant and hospitality industry include:

  • Exempt small businesses from being penalized with higher unemployment insurance rates due to layoffs resulting from Covid-related, government-mandated closures. The exemption would extend for a period of one year from when they are permitted to return to full capacity.
  • Prohibit internet-based food delivery services (GrubHub and DoorDash) from charging higher fees than they charged on or before March 1, 2020.
  • Provide small businesses additional time to pay monthly sales and payroll taxes, as well as, business and property taxes;
  • Offer interest-free loans or lines of credit to small businesses.
  • Provide a one-year extension for renewal of liquor licenses.
  • Provide businesses a 90-day grace period to pay any fees or penalties due to state and local agencies.

Also included in the plan announced by the Senate Republican Conference were pieces of legislation that would:

  • Direct SLA-inflicted fines into a business relief fund to help small businesses get back on their feet.
  • Provide for a credit on liquor license renewals for the amount of time bars and restaurants were forced to be shut down due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • Create a limited state sales tax exemption for the sale of food and drink at restaurants and taverns from state sales and compensating use taxes and granting municipalities the option to grant such limited exemption.
  • Provide a tax check off box that will direct funds into a business relief fund.
  • Create an employee retention tax credit, modeled after the Federal Employee Retention Credit, to help employers keep workers on payroll.

“This package of legislation includes necessary measures to help our restaurants and hospitality industry get back on their feet after the sharp declines in revenue they’ve suffered as a result of the pandemic and bad policy,” Borrello said. “Without assistance, too many of our small businesses are going to be forced to close their doors for good – the state needs to act quickly to provide relief.”