Last year, the Department of Ag and Markets decided to institute a “don’t cut the cheese” law at farmers’ markets. The state insisted that cheese vendors obtain a permit, similar to the ones delis are issued. This was altogether infuriating. This wasn’t possible because these types of permits require hot running water and other equipment that are not feasible in a farmers’ market setting. Many farmers were selling artisan cheeses and had been for years without incident.
The state compromised and said they could still sell the cheese if they pre-sliced the cheese. The farmers reasoned that pre-slicing compromises freshness and taste, as these are artisan cheeses typically cut the day of sale. Eventually, the state backed off; but only after media attention and public office inquiries did it decide not to enforce the regulation. My point is sometimes the state gets in its own way of doing business.
This is not a surprise to most people who have their own businesses. Anyone in the restaurant business or daycare business expects routine inspections. Other establishments are reviewed for safety as well. These are good measures that protect the public and customers who trust the state to provide some oversight. That said, however, the state should not be in the business of over-extending its reach or its authority to the detriment of well-intentioned business owners. It makes people feel unappreciated, angry and unwelcome.
Here are some other examples of overregulation and overreach that defy logic:
- In February, the Albany Times Union published a story that stated the Department of Labor fined Papa John’s Pizza Franchise $5,535 for not providing five polo shirts to each of its 35 employees, while some of these employees worked only a few hours a week. The owner was told an appeal would take years due to backlog and the fine would accrue interest.
- A company buys a manufacturing plant in New York. They were informed that they would be subject to the prevailing wage because the end product is delivered to New York public works projects. The owner reasoned that shipping to Ohio would allow them to sell the product for less.
- A partner in a business recently purchased the business outright. The buyer sought to change all state licenses, accounts, etc. into his name. He needed to verify that no taxes or fees were owed to the state in order to purchase the business and avoid a future lien against the property. Separate inquiries were made to each agency, yet no one could identify all the agencies to which the business could owe taxes or fees.
- In some cases, the Department of Taxation and Finance has assessed fines for businesses who have not paid adequate sales tax, which is common if businesses are not in compliance. Many businesses and accountants, however, who have been assessed fees have trouble discerning the state's accounting methods for assessing the fees. After pointing out inconsistencies, sometimes changes are made and fees drastically lowered. Our office has been able to help in some cases like this.
In many cases, our office has been able to intercede if constituents contact us concerning the Department of Taxation and Finance, Worker's Compensation, the Liquor Authority, Department of Transportation and other state-run agencies. With this year’s budget, the state passed something called NY Open for Business. I hope that we can improve our business climate and truly become 'open for business' without these overbearing incidents replaying throughout the state. I also have fought for a more efficient government and, in some cases, this has helped eliminate some frustrations for businesses. We must keep making strides toward this end and improve agency and business relations; otherwise, we run the risk of giving more businesses more reason to complain when they see the sign "NY Open for Business."
If you have any questions or comments on this or any other state issue, or if you would like to be added to my mailing list or receive my newsletter, please contact my office. My office can be reached by mail at 200 North Second Street, Fulton, New York 13069, by e-mail at email@example.com or by calling (315) 598-5185. You also may find me, Assemblyman Barclay, on Facebook.