Murphy: ‘Small businesses are suffering mightily. We know it. We get it’

Governor says it’s too early to tell how the state – and more importantly, the feds – will be able to help

By Tom Bergeron
New Jersey | Mar 15, 2020 at 5:48 pm
Editor’s Desk

Gov. Phil Murphy and his administration are working around the clock during this coronavirus outbreak — attempting to identify the biggest issues and taking many proactive measures to solve them.

If you’re a small business owner getting crushed by the state of the state in these troubled times, the biggest issue for you is assistance from the government. Murphy says it’s one of his top priorities. He says he feels your pain. He just can’t say exactly what he’s going to do about it. And he won’t be able to do so for some time.

If you’re a small business owner looking for specific answers — something other than the federal government playing a role in potential acts of compensation — you’re going to have to wait a few more days, weeks or even months.

“We all understand the impact this all having on our business community, especially our small business community, and we want to make sure we are there for them,” Murphy said during the state’s daily briefing Sunday afternoon. “More details on that to come.”

Murphy revealed the state has established a website to help small business get answers to some of their questions.

And he was quick to say that the biggest answers have to come from the federal government.

“It’s too early to tell, but we’ll clearly need a huge amount of support for them,” he said. “I’ve spent a lot of time with our federal delegation because a lot of that support is going to come out of the federal government. But it’s too early to give you specifics at this point, other than to say (small businesses) are in our hearts and minds.

“(Small businesses) are suffering mightily as a result of this. We know that, we get it and we will work as aggressively as we can to get them back on their feet and compensate them for what will be a challenging period.”

For many small businesses (and ROI-NJ is included in that description) the next “challenging period” is the next payroll.

For those thinking of skipping it — or laying off employees because of it — Murphy offers two reasons you shouldn’t:

  1. It’s the wrong thing to do;
  2. It could hurt you now — and later.

Simply put, good luck getting help from the feds later if you don’t help your employees now.

“(Small business) can’t claim the assistance if they don’t show the need,” Murphy said. “If they haven’t paid the individual — and please, god, this is the worst time in the state’s modern history for folks not to pay people.

“But if (small businesses) don’t show they have an outlay of the money to pay the employee, they can’t then later on claim any assistance in compensation. I think it’s no more complicated than that.”

Murphy repeated his intention to do right by small business.

“Small business is one we’ve got our eye closing on because inevitably and invariably they’re paying a huge price for this,” he said.

That price includes some of the state taxes State Senate President Steve Sweeney suggested should be modified in the coming months.

Murphy didn’t immediately discount them, but offered thoughts on why they may not be the best thing to do right now.

“I don’t think any of the ideas that Steve raised are bad ones,” he said. “And the notion of providing relief is hugely important right now. We have to do it responsibility, making sure we can still run the entire state (and not shorting) ourselves on the revenue side is something we have to look at.

“I don’t want to use this as a commercial for recurring revenue, but there’s nothing like recurring revenue and that includes sales tax and, more importantly, includes the millionaire’s tax.”

Murphy said businesses need to adjust to these times. And if that means allowing their employees to work from home — as he will do with a mandate for state employees that will start Wednesday — he’s all in favor of it.

One thing he’s not in favor of: Employers telling employees they have to come to the workplace if it can be avoided.

“If an employee says to (an employer), ‘I don’t feel comfortable coming to work, please can I work from home?’ I’ll be a son of a gun if the answer to that is, ‘No,’ ” he said. “If it is, ‘No.’ I think we’d like to hear about it at the department of labor because this is the time when we’re encouraging that.

“We’re actually walking the talk at the state level and not just asking the private sector to do that. I think it’s one of the best social distance policies that we can employ … to allow folks to work in the space and the confines of their own homes.”

Which is wear Murphy may be spending his favorite holiday, St. Patrick’s Day. Even on that day — which falls on Tuesday — Murphy said businesses need to adjust for the good of the state.

“Whether it’s St. Patrick’s Day or any day, we’ve got to shake the state from business as usual to a different place,” he said. “We believe with all our hearts we can do that without engendering higher anxiety. In fact, I think we can do lower the anxiety by doing that.

“So, whether it’s St. Patrick’s Day on Tuesday or any day, we’re looking at some pretty aggressive steps even beyond the aggressive moves we’ve taken.”

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