• The Star Staff

Gubernatorial candidates address concerns from the local restaurant industry

By Pedro Correa Henry

Twitter: @PCorreaHenry

Special to The Star

To be more clear on what the next government will do for the island restaurant industry starting in January, the Puerto Rican Restaurant Association (ASORE by its Spanish acronym) held a forum Tuesday via Zoom where five of the six gubernatorial candidates agreed to present their proposals for helping the sector amid the national emergencies that have marked the current four-year term.

New Progressive Party (NPP) gubernatorial candidate Pedro Pierluisi, who recognized that the restaurant industry has gone “through challenging ideas” and acknowledged that “restaurants have been critical to enforcing safety protocols” to prevent the spread of coronavirus infections, said even though he thought that reducing the sales and use tax -- commonly known by its Spanish acronym IVU -- on prepared meals to 7 percent was a good idea, it would “be better to eliminate taxes on prepared meals.”

As for permitting transactions, the NPP president and former resident commissioner said “the government would be more effective and facilitating through auto certification for both restaurant and business owners” as there “there is still much inefficiency” in obtaining permits.

Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) candidate Juan Dalmau said meanwhile that one of the proposals for economic development in his Patria Nueva government plan is to establish a 10 percent income tax on all businesses located in Puerto Rico. The PIP senator said this would help “reduce local business tax rates by 20 percent because they pay more than 30 percent in income tax.”

Moreover, Dalmau said he was in favor of eliminating the inventory tax and increasing the minimum wage, although he understood that the latter would mean a sharp sting for the restaurant industry. He said however that an income-based tax system was necessary to alleviate local businesses from paying for governmental obligations because “we can’t take more from our citizens; more poor people would mean less economic injection and less consumption.”

Meanwhile, Dignity Project candidate César Vázquez said his proposal would be more focused on promoting employment on the island given that “Puerto Rico has some of the lowest employment rates within both the U.S. states and territories and some of the highest unemployment rates.”

The cardiologist added that his government plan would be focused on creating public policies “that control the entrance [to the island] of substances that produce solid waste” and provide “trustworthy electric power sources,” and freeing up federal funds for the island’s recovery, as “60 to 70 percent of funds from Hurricane Maria” have yet to be used.

Independent gubernatorial candidate Eliezer Molina said his government plan is a “re-evolution to transform Puerto Rico’s economy of consumption to an economy of production.” He said one of his goals is to create an Evaluation and Enforcement Office at La Fortaleza “to make sure that the money from Washington gets to the people.” He insisted that neither the COVID-19 pandemic nor Hurricane Maria has been the obstacle because “we have been in this economic situation for more than 20 years.”

As for waste reduction, Molina said he would develop a recycling project “to produce electric power, raw materials, and income because I want to give value to waste.”

Citizen Victory Movement gubernatorial candidate Alexandra Lúgaro said one of her goals as governor is to develop an educational curriculum based on learning through problem solving to produce citizens who are capable of finding “integral solutions” to the island’s issues and increase production, “given that 97 percent of the island’s economy is consumer-based.”

Lúgaro said further that “I would allocate 600,000 acres for farming to grow fresh fruits and vegetables based on the island’s local diet and for hemp production” to provide farmers with better income and restaurants with locally sourced ingredients.

At the last minute, Popular Democratic Party gubernatorial candidate Carlos Delgado Altieri canceled his participation in ASORE’s virtual forum. He was supposed to be the first candidate to present his proposals.

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