Gov. Pierluisi Speaks Directly to Restaurant Owners
Will Seek Same Relief Offered Stateside if Minimum Wage is Increased
SAN JUAN — Gov. Pedro Pierluisi spoke to the Puerto Rico Restaurant Association (Asore by its Spanish acronym) on Tuesday acknowledged the island restaurants’ needs and said he has been following the impact on the industry from the economic crisis, the 2017 hurricanes, earthquakes and the Covid-19 pandemic. The governor made his remarks during an Asore event held at the Puerto Rico Convention Center.
“I have always recognized the great contribution that this industry makes to Puerto Rico’s economy,” Pierluisi said. “I am very aware of the challenges you are facing and I have been clear that I support you and I will work so that you can overcome these and progress.”
The governor said he has asked the Economic Development and Commerce Department and the Treasury Department to develop a new incentives program to address the industry downturn amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We will be using some funds that were left over from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security [Cares] Act,” the governor said, adding that they will be aimed at reaching small and medium-sized businesses that haven’t been able to benefit from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).
Another issue he said his administration was focusing on is ensuring the permits process doesn’t take as long. He said he will be speaking with the Financial Oversight and Management Board (FOMB) so that more inspectors can be hired by the government to accelerate the business certification process.
Regarding the curfew imposed so that businesses close earlier and people are at their homes by 11 p.m., he said that if it were up to him there would be no curfew, but added that it has been implemented for a reason: to help curb the spread of the virus.
Pierluisi also spoke about a request made by Asore to eliminate the sales and use tax (IVU by its Spanish acronym) from prepared food.
“I would love to eliminate the IVU on prepared food, as your [Asore] president recently requested, but I have to be realistic amid the fiscal situation we are facing,” the governor said. “And, I don’t want to promise something that I won’t be able to honor.”
He acknowledged that Puerto Rico’s sales tax, at 11.5 percent, is one of the highest when compared with other jurisdictions.
The governor also spoke about the executive order issued by U.S. President Joe Biden to increase the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $15 an hour.
“Seven twenty-five is really not enough to live based on Puerto Rico’s cost of living,” he said. “President Biden has made a commitment so that the increase [in the minimum wage] is done and that the minimum salary wage be established at $15. I know this is a substantial jump, more than double. What is important here is for [resident commissioner] Jenniffer González and me to find common cause, and if the federal Congress makes way for that increase…. It’s key that any economic relief that is given at a federal level to minimize the blow on the economic sector, be applied to Puerto Rico.”
Pierluisi further said he shouldn’t be asked by any industry not to implement the minimum wage increase if it is implemented stateside, because Puerto Rico “is not Costa Rica, Puerto Rico is not Panama,” he said, giving the example of two sovereign countries.
“If in Puerto Rico we continue paying $7.25 an hour and in Florida, in Texas and South Carolina they pay $15, what do you think is going to happen? A lot of people are going to get on the airline bus…. And if we are struggling to find workers, I don’t know how the sectors are going to attract workers if we are paying here less than half than what is paid there.”