State lawmakers seek help for small business

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Members of the State Senate unanimously voted in favor of two bills on March 7 that — if passed by the Assembly and signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo — could assist small business owners. One bill would allow them to create tax-deferred savings accounts for specific business needs. The other would establish a Small Business Crime Prevention Services Program. Both bills are currently in committee in the Assembly, and are expected to pass.

“I think these are common-sense bills that are trying to help small businesses,” said State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, a Democrat from Long Beach. “I hope they get passed.”

Tax-deferred savings accounts

The first bill would allow businesses to contribute to tax-deferred savings accounts from which money could be withdrawn during times of economic hardship, for renovations, or for job retention and creation. The accounts could also be used when the governor deems that a natural disaster warrants assistance from the federal government.

“This one rings true to me,” Kaminsky said, adding that many small businesses on the South Shore did not have enough savings to rebuild after Hurricane Sandy. “They don’t have adequate savings to deal with an economic downfall or an act of God.”

Peter Mistretta, the owner of Mamma Gina’s on Merrick Road in Valley Stream, said the bill would help, noting that business at the pizza shop had been slow during the federal government shutdown in January and now, during tax season. But usually, he said, Lent is one of the shop’s busiest seasons.

Still, he added, “We’re hanging in there.”

In a recent news release, State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli indicated, by way of data obtained from the U.S. Census Bureau, that employment among New York’s small businesses has increased slightly faster than the national rate, an indication of growth. But DiNapoli also said that small businesses face a variety of challenges, including a constantly changing marketplace and the competitive demands of a global economy.

“Our small businesses are the lifeblood of our communities, and need to have the stability that this bill helps provide,” Kaminsky said.

Assemblyman Charles Lavine, a Democrat from Glen Cove, introduced the bill in the Assembly. He said that his colleagues know it’s a good bill, and that he hoped it would pass. Lavine said that the current bill doesn’t include a cap on savings.

A similar bill was crafted six years ago, he said, when a federal version was also being considered. But Cuomo would not sign it, Lavine recalled, because he said he was concerned about the cost. “At this point, there remains a question as to what the actual cost would be to the state,” Lavine acknowledged. “It would need to be raised another way. After we pass the budget, the Ways and Means Committee can determine how much the bill would cost the state.”

Crime prevention

The creation of a Small Business Crime Prevention Services Program is vital, said Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages, a Democrat from Elmont who drafted the Assembly version of the bill. It was inspired by an Elmont business that had been hit with a fire-extinguisher sales scam, and the services it would create include infrastructure to disseminate information to small businesses about scams that could target them, as well as access to low-interest loans for businesses that are crime victims.

“We wanted to set up a resource center to provide small businesses with information on strategies and best practices to prevent crimes,” Solages said, “and provide a funding opportunity for small businesses . . . to bounce back from when they are victimized in a crime situation.”

Kaminsky agreed, and added that many small businesses do not have the security personnel necessary to deal with potential crimes, and supported the idea of having the state teach small business owners ways to prevent crimes.

In Valley Stream, Mistretta said that Mamma Gina’s has been receiving phone calls from what appears to be PSEG, but he said he knows it could not actually be the utility because he always pays his bill. In the calls, he reported, the person pretending to be a PSEG representative threatens to close down the business. Mistretta knows the calls are scams, he said, and does not answer. But, he added, there is a danger that other small business owners might be duped by the scheme.

“I’ve never been scammed,” he said. “But any money to help prevent crime would help.”

Debbi Gyulay, vice president of the Valley Stream Chamber of Commerce, also said that she supported the bill. “Whatever the state can do to help protect and encourage small businesses is a plus,” she said. “Small businesses are vitally important to our community.”