New York lawmakers are pushing back against Gov. Kathy Hochul’s plan to allow restaurants and bars to serve cocktails with takeout and delivery orders.
The Senate and Assembly’s Democratic majorities issued separate state budget proposals over the weekend, laying out their own wish lists for state spending heading into final negotiations with Hochul’s office.
Neither of the legislative budget plans included what Hochul recently called “the most popular item in (her) budget”: A measure that would permanently authorize cocktails to go.
“The Senate intentionally omits the Executive proposal to allow on-premises establishments to sell wine or liquor drinks for take-out or delivery,” the Senate Democrats’ budget plan reads.
The concept of allowing cocktails with to-go sales has been a point of contention in Albany since June 2021, when the state put an end to a temporary, 15-month period in which bars and restaurants were allowed to offer wine and liquor drinks with any order.
To-go drinks offered a lifeline for the hospitality industry during the darkest days of the COVID-19 pandemic, when in-person operations were prohibited or restricted. And the restaurant industry has been the loudest force pushing to make them permanent, arguing that it could still provide a much-needed boost.
But they’ve run into a significant obstacle in Albany: The liquor store lobby, which has raised concern over the measure and has not been afraid of letting lawmakers know.
Both the New York State Liquor Store Association and the Metropolitan Package Store Association have been active in lobbying against Hochul’s proposals. They’ve had success when they’ve teamed up in the past, banding together to help block plans to allow the sale of wine in grocery stores in the late 2000s and early 2010s.
The liquor store organizations argue that allowing restaurants and bars to sell to-go wine and cocktails would allow them to compete with liquor stores without having to follow the same rules.
“The proposed legislation would take what remains of these small businesses, their regular customers, and hand them over to another industry that is not being compelled to follow the same burdensome regulations for nothing in return,” the Metro Package Store Association wrote in a memo last month. “Essentially, we are being told there is no burden for us and, even if there is, just ‘take the hit.’”
Mike Whyland, a spokesperson for Assembly Democrats, said the conference took Hochul’s proposal out of their budget plan because it dealt with a policy issue. Lawmakers have long groused about governors including extensive policy proposals in their budget plans, even if they have little or nothing to do with the state’s finances.
“Generally we did not include policy in our budget proposal as we wanted to keep it a fiscal document,” Whyland said in a statement.
Melissa Fleischut, president and CEO of the New York State Restaurant Association, said she doesn’t agree. Cocktails to go is a significant financial issue for the restaurant industry, she said.
Fleischut said her message to her members has been to keep fighting. The state’s new fiscal year doesn’t begin until April 1, giving them a little more than two weeks to convince lawmakers to go along with Hochul’s plan.
“Quite honestly, the industry needed to have this happen almost a year ago,” Fleischut said. “The Legislature, if they had passed this last year, it could have helped us during the (omicron) slowdown.”