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COVID-19 Leaves County, State Budgets Facing Problems

State revenues aren’t the only revenues that will be impacted by the state’s limitations of bars, restaurants and public venues.

State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli projects that the economic slowdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic will cost New York state between $4 and $7 billion in revenues for the next fiscal year that starts on April 1.

Assemblyman Andrew Goodell, R-Jamestown, said a similar phenomenon will happen locally. While estimates are rough, Goodell said county governments could lose between $200,000 and $250,000 a week in sales tax revenues.

“Bars and restaurants in Chautauqua County account for over $70 million in payroll,” Goodell said. “So when you look at the sales tax implications, first look at the employment situations. There are about 4,000 people who are employed with bars and restaurants and that number varies depending on the season, more in the summer than the winter. That’s a really substantial impact on those individuals, many of whom are hourly and live paycheck to paycheck. Then in terms of the impact on government, you’re looking at probably $10 to $15 million per year that comes from that segment of our economy that’s between county and local governments.”

The New York State Association of Counties on Wednesday released a study that falls into line with Goodell’s logic. NYSAC officials presented multiple scenarios. A mild scenario would see Chautauqua County lose about $2,352,953, or 3.9% of its sales tax revenue, this year while a severe scenario forecasts Chautauqua County losing $8,688,207 in sales tax revenues, or 12.9%.

“These revenue forecasts are very troubling for local governments and property taxpayers,” said NYSAC President John F. (Jack) Marren. “Local taxpayers will face challenges on four separate fronts at a time when we are fighting the coronavirus outbreak. The first will be an increased demand for health and human services during a recession, the second is a loss in critical local sales tax revenues we use to fund state and local services delivered in our community, the third will come in the form of looming cuts from the state budget, and the fourth will be further reductions in local quality of life services.”

The coronavirus has also led to a practical concern in Albany as legislators debate the state budget, sick leave legislation and other matters. Two Democratic legislators, Charles Barron and Helene Weinstein, have tested positive for COVID-19. Those positive tests, coupled with social distancing measures, will bring a different tone and feel to legislative discussions in the coming days.

“This has caused a panic among the Democratic conference because they meet in very very tight quarters for hours on end passing a microphone around,” Goodell said before Wednesday’s Assembly session. “If you watch our session today, you’ll discover almost all the seats are empty. They’re going to be rotating groups of legislators throughout the session. They’re not letting more than 50 or 75 legislators out on the floor at any time. I think they’re limiting it to 50 legislators at a time. We’ve got two bills, and it will probably take us all night.”

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