Governor Tom Wolf announced a plan to assist the commonwealth’s struggling hospitality industry by waiving liquor license fees for bars and restaurants over the next year during a conference at a Pittsburgh restaurant on Thursday.
Joined by State Representatives Dan Deasy (D-Allegheny), Ed Gainey (D-Allegheny) and Jake Wheatley (D-Allegheny), and Senator Wayne Fontana (D-Allegheny), Wolf said that the initiative could provide substantial relief to an industry that has suffered significantly throughout 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I am working right now with the Liquor Control Board in Pennsylvania to waive licensing fees in restaurants, clubs, bars and hotels for the entire coming year,” Wolf said during the conference at LeMont Restaurant. “If we can do that, that will save them $20 million over the course of the year.”
Wolf stated that he was working with the PLCB to waive standard licensing fees through 2021 starting January 1, 2021, and that he expected the PLCB to consider the suggestion at their next board meeting, which is scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 28.
“Waiving these fees will remove a burden for restaurant owners during a difficult time, and this is an important step toward helping bars and restaurants retain, as Representative Deasy said, the capital they need to weather the storm of COVID-19,” Wolf said.
The governor commended his fellow politicians for their advocacy in the mission to help the hospitality industry through trying times, and noted the importance of taking actions that would produce results.
“They need our help now, and my administration will continue to fight for the funding they deserve for as long as I can,” Wolf said. “Again, the restaurant industry needs help, concrete help. Not smoke and mirrors, not something that pretends the virus doesn’t exist, but concrete help, and that’s what this is, and that’s what we’re proposing, and I really appreciate the support and the leadership that I’ve gotten from this delegation.”
Fontana made mention of the work of the Allegheny County Senate Delegation, which proposed a seven-point plan to the governor in the early summer. The senator said the delegation had hoped some of the plans could have been put into place alongside federal CARES funding to assist the restaurant industry, “but we’re still waiting for some of those federal dollars.”
“Today’s announcement is a lifeline that will save the restaurant industry real dollars that can be used to continue their operations in the future,” Fontana said. “It’s a lifeline that provides hope, real hope, for that future.”
Gainey noted that he and his colleagues had been struggling to obtain relief for the restaurant industry, and that the governor’s proposal to waive PLCB fees was “thinking outside the box” that could help support those businesses, especially in economically troubled areas.
“In the east, some of my bars and taverns are in disadvantaged communities, real disadvantaged communities, and are economic drivers in our communities. They’re major,” Gainey said. “And so when I come here today and I hear them talking about waiving fees, that’s a great beginning to saying that we want to remove some of the barriers and some of the financial problems that you have.”
Wolf also noted his efforts presented in the fall legislative agenda, including a call on the General Assembly to provide an additional $225 million in federal CARES Act funding in the form of forgivable loans and grants throughout the COVID-19 Relief Statewide Small Business Assistance Program, along with a proposal of $100 million in forgivable loans and grants for the hospitality, leisure and service industries.
Furthermore, Wolf spoke of his support for the federal Real Economic Support That Acknowledges Unique Restaurant Assistance Needed to Survive (RESTAURANTS) Act, a bipartisan bill in Congress that provides $120 billion to help independent restaurants with economic challenges stemming from the pandemic.
While the fee-waiving is one piece of “concrete help” for the restaurant and bar owners, Republicans and industry advocates are concerned that it is not nearly enough to keep establishments in the commonwealth afloat in such tumultuous times.
The Pennsylvania House Republican Caucus felt that the governor’s initiative was insufficient to support struggling restaurants, bars and taverns, noting that Wolf had struck down what they perceived as a better strategy when he vetoed House Bill 2513. An attempt to override the veto was shot down earlier this week.
“Earlier this week, Democrats had a chance to join Republicans in providing real assistance to this struggling industry and its workers by overriding the Governor’s veto of House Bill 2513, but instead too many of them sold their votes for today’s half measure of help that does not even take effect until next year should it be adopted by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board,” Gottesman said, noting that Democrats were “blindly following this governor’s mandates,” and needed to instead listen to “the families, workers and small business owners” who had been affected by Wolf’s “overbroad and inconsistent shutdown.”
Chuck Moran, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association, expressed concern that Wolf’s fee-waiving plan.
“Earlier this year, the Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association stated that a comprehensive package would be needed to bail out the industry and save jobs – including ALL licensing fees,” Moran said in a statement. “We certainly hope that the Governor means ALL fees liquor license holders pay in his definition of ‘standard’ including but not limited to off-premise catering, Sunday permits, and small games of chance.”
Moran noted that eliminating fees was “part of the solution,” he indicated that much more work was needed “particularly considering the size of the industry and its role in the Pennsylvania economy.”
“We would have liked to have seen a comprehensive package promoted by the governor,” Moran said.