BY BENJAMIN FANG
Dozens of business leaders attended the Queens Chamber of Commerce’s luncheon at Ben’s Kosher Delicatessen Restaurant & Caterers in Bay Terrace on April 17.
The event featured State Senator John Liu, who spoke about pending state legislation and took questions about a variety of issues, including marijuana legalization, single-payer health care and closing Rikers Island.
Prior to introducing Liu, Thomas Grech, president and CEO of the Queens Chamber, said in the wake of Amazon’s departure, he has seen an anti-business sentiment spread across the city.
“The things people do in business, the taxes their employees pay,” he said, “they help support and pay for the social programs in our great city.”
Liu said small businesses are the “fabric and underpinnings” of the economy that need to not just survive, but thrive. But small businesses continue to face many burdens, including “incessant and unrelenting government regulations.”
“Unfortunately, we don’t always put our public policy where it matters,” he said.
The former city comptroller and City Council member now chairs the Committee on New York City Education in the State Senate. His purview includes everything from pre-kindergarten and 3K all the way to college and graduate schools.
“I often say education is the best economic driver,” Liu said, “the best economic development the government can make.”
To make his case, Liu said Amazon specifically chose New York instead of other states that offered more subsidies because of the city’s well-educated and skilled workforce.
“Even though we worry about the future of education, the reality is, I think our education is actually pretty darn good compared to many other states,” he said. “Hence, giving us that comparative advantage. Hence, clueing us in on where that additional money should be invested.”
On the issue of legalizing marijuana, Liu said the proposal should be examined and considered. As comptroller, he studied the issue and found himself favoring decriminalization because the “medical community agrees that marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol.’
He added that the current prohibition of marijuana doesn’t work, and that many people who are buying weed get it from criminals.
“We should take the criminal element out of it, regulate it, tax it and generate significant revenue,” he said.
When asked about his position on closing Rikers Island, the state senator said while he doesn’t want to put jails in anyone’s community, he believes Rikers Island is a “boondoggle.”
“I do believe some reform is necessary,” he said. “Rikers is not sustainable, and it’s wasting a lot of money.”
As for single-payer health care, Liu said he supports the proposed legislation in the state, doesn’t foresee it going anywhere because of the price tag.
He argued that a single-payer system would be more efficient because it would eliminate costs for administration overhead, and instead use more funds to help people.
“But practically speaking, I don’t know if it has any momentum,” he said.