OUR VIEW: Increasing liquor licenses

Tuesday , March 18, 2014 - 1:10 PM

Editorial Board

That Utah needs to increase its number of liquor outlets is obvious. Our state has fewer than one outlet per 1,000 adults in Utah. Compare those numbers to Montana, which has 3.4 outlets per 1,000 adults, or Wyoming, which has 3.13 outlets, or California, which has 1.65 outlets, or even Idaho, which has 1.110 outlets per 1,000 adults.

Legislators' refusal to allow more licenses has an adverse economic impact on our state. The lack of access to liquor licenses has prevented the Darden Restaurant Group from opening 12 outlets in Utah. According to Coldwell Banker Commercial, that costs Utah almost $3 million in tax revenues a year.

The usual argument by legislators is that more liquor licenses will lead to more underage drinking and drunken driving. Frankly, that's just a cover for the real reason liquor is stifled in this state, which is cultural antipathy -- from most legislators -- to alcoholic beverages and social drinkers. It's this kind of cultural bigotry that turns otherwise fiscal conservatives into Carrie Nation progressives when the issue on the table is liquor.

The cultural dam may be breaking some. State Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, perhaps cognizant of the need to attract businesses, and tax revenue, plans to offer some changes to the rules governing how liquor licenses are doled out. Hopefully, Valentine and others will listen to data prepared by the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation. That group's research shows that the key to preventing adverse consequence of liquor retail is not by being stingy with licenses.

Rather, it's simply using common sense when allocating the licenses. The recommendations include closing liquor establishments that constantly have infractions, placing liquor establishments at reasonable geographic distances, and stopping new licensing in areas that already have lots of liquor establishments.

In short, effective, smart regulation will allow Utah to increase the number of liquor licenses statewide without fears of increased drunken driving, etc. If our leaders can't or won't make changes to benefit our state, perhaps we should bring in help from other states.

All of this information is a no-brainer to most of us. The hard part of course, is changing the soft prejudices within the Legislature that prevent reasonable, sane liquor laws.

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