NEW JERSEY — Gov. Phil Murphy on Monday vetoed a bill that would have appropriated $30 million in federal monies to reimburse restaurants owners who expended funds in anticipation of reopening for indoor dining July 2 — an opening the governor canceled two days before it was set to occur.
While in his veto statement Murphy said New Jersey government is meeting the original goal of bill with other grant monies to support restaurants and bars during COVID-19, a leading advocate for restaurants in the state told NJ Flavor that the other funding is not enough, and one of the bill’s sponsors said the measure approved by the Legislature in August may in fact be what prompted Murphy to direct other federal grant funds toward the industry.
“We are disappointed in the veto,” said Marilou Halvorsen, president of the NJ Restaurant & Hospitality Association. “The need for assistance is far more than what the grant provides. We hope in time there will be additional funding for restaurants and hotels. We are the hardest hit industry and need the help. This is also about jobs since we are labor intensive and the state’s largest employer.”
In his statement, Murphy applauded the bill’s sponsors but pointed to a portion of $100 million in funding under the federal Coronavirus, Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES, which state and federal officials on Oct. 13 had approved to support residents and businesses impacted by the pandemic.
“Following the recent announcement that an additional $100 million in CARES Act funding will be available to support New Jersey residents and businesses, including $35 million dedicated to food establishments, the goals of this bill have already been achieved,” he said.
Both houses of the state Legislature had approved the bill, S-2704, by unanimous votes on Aug. 27, legislative records show.
Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick, R-Westfield, who along with Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-West Deptford, had sponsored the bill said Monday that their initial legislative measure prompted the governor’s action.
“I don’t think that there’s any doubt that the bipartisan bill that we have was an incentive and spurred the governor to act,” Bramnick said. “He certainly wasn’t acting until the bill got to his desk so if the Bramnick/Sweeney bill was an incentive for the governor to begin to help the restaurants, I’m very pleased we were able to help to convince him to move forward and help the restaurant industry.”
Murphy vetoed the bill on the same day he announced that the state would be extending allowances on serving alcohol outdoors for a $10 fee, something the state had originally done while indoor dining was prohibited.
Halvorsen, who said she was assisting her membership in preparing grant applications Monday, also pointed to the ramifications that anticipated restaurant closures could have on municipalities’ tax bases.
“When businesses close and declare bankruptcy, this will impact not just the state but the municipalities and schools if property taxes aren’t paid,” Halvorsen said.
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