To-go cocktails apparently spiked in budget process

Gov. Kathy Hochul says she is willing to wait on legalizing to-go alcohol sales following opposition from state lawmakers.

Gov. Kathy Hochul appears to be giving up on the idea of legalizing to-go alcohol sales through the state budget process.

Gov. Kathy Hochul appears to be giving up on the idea of legalizing to-go alcohol sales through the state budget process. Cindy Ord/Getty Images

Gov. Kathy Hochul appears to be giving up on the idea of legalizing to-go alcohol sales through the state budget process. The Democratic supermajorities in the state Senate and Assembly rejected the idea yesterday in their nonbinding one-house budget resolutions – and Hochul is willing to wait on the issue until this spring.

 “We’ll find the right venue to get it done,” Hochul told reporters at a Monday evening appearance in Albany, WMHT reported. “I want to make sure we get it through before the end of session.” 

Some supporters are vowing to fight on despite some recent setbacks that underscore the forces working against the legalization of to-go cocktails, which became popular during COVID-19 lockdowns, when restaurants served all food and drink to go or for delivery. But it looks increasingly likely that the proposal will not be included in the state budget expected to be approved at the end of the month despite the popularity of the idea and the support of the governor, who has outsized influence in the state budget process.

Supporters of legalizing to-go alcohol sales have emphasized how they helped struggling restaurants earlier in the pandemic before an executive order allowing the practice expired. This includes $4 billion in sales taxes and additional revenues from a state excise tax on liquor, according to the New York State Restaurant Association.

“We're not going to give up the fight yet,” Melissa Fleischut, president and CEO of the association, told City & State at the Capitol on Tuesday. “There's still a long way to go in the negotiations, and we hope it will be included in the final budget.” 

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie has repeatedly emphasized how his conference traditionally opposes passing policy proposals in the budget, which often results in lawmakers having little time to consider budget bills before they must vote on them. While the state Senate has no such problems with policy proposals, Democrats in both chambers have expressed concerns about how legalizing to-go cocktails might affect the bottom line of business interests like liquor stores. Some legislators have moral qualms as well.

“The solution to every economic problem in the state of New York is not the expansion of consumption of alcohol,” Assembly Member Phil Steck, chair of the Committee on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, told City & State Tuesday. “There have to be some spaces in this life which are alcohol free.” 

Legislators might offer some hints Tuesday afternoon on the budgetary fate of the proposal at a meeting of the General Government/Local Assistance Legislative Budget subcommittee, scheduled for 2.30 p.m. “This must be part of a broader package of updating the antiquated (state alcohol laws),” state Sen. James Skoufis, who is co-chairing the subcommittee, said via text. “I would prefer to do it in the budget.” 

His chamber and the Assembly, however, have already formally rejected the idea of legalizing to-go alcohol sales in the budget – at least for now – and the governor has signaled that she would rather negotiate with lawmakers about passing a standalone bill on the matter after the April 1 budget deadline passes than invest additional political capital on the effort. The last scheduled day of the 2022 legislative session is Thursday, June 2. 

Hochul, who has built her political brand on her congeniality, has already made a strategic retreat on another controversial budget proposal concerning accessory dwelling units. 

“She probably has the same frustrations that I do,” said Dominick Purnomo, a restaurant owner and the director of the New York Restaurant Association. “This is why Albany gets such a bad name, because of the constant stalemate in state politics.”