10PM tonight marks the end of the 2011 Utah legislative session, otherwise known as “The Circus.” This was a session filled with more antics than I can remember from previous sessions. From bills proposing unrestricted concealed weapons carrying to illegal restrictions on abortion, as well as more anti-federal messaging bills than one can count, we really saw a lot of stupidity. Although, since the legislature quietly and quickly passed a controversial law limiting which of their communications can be made public, we may not “see” as much of the stupidity going forward.
But, the highlight of the session to me is the continued attack on alcohol consumption in Zion. The session started out with a press conference where several high profile windbags…err legislators…extolled the dangers of the dens of iniquity serving alcohol. You know…like Chili’s.
On the last day of the session, the legislators passed an alcohol reform bill that has many welcome components. For instance, hotel guests ordering room service can now order a single beverage. In the past, if you wanted hard liquor delivered to your room you had to order an entire sealed bottle. The law also converts several unused beer and wine pub licenses into restaurant liquor licenses, hopefully easing some of the demand for those wanting to open new businesses in the state (we’ve been passed over by several large chains recently due to the lack of licenses).
But, buried in this bill is a measure that seems a bit hypocritical coming from a group that decries government meddling. Our esteemed legislators have put an end to all day drink specials. Apparently, cheap booze means bar goers will drink more and drive drunk more often. So, these politicians who promote the virtues of business and want to tell the feds to stop dictating how our state and its businesses are run (via that pesky EPA) have reached their hands into hundreds of Utah small businesses to dictate how much they charge for a beer. They’re essentially telling these small business owners they cannot employ common marketing strategies to increase business, which in turn increases tax revenue for the state.
In another slap in the face to their own professed values, the Legislature is also reducing the budget of the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (DABC) and closing five profitable liquor stores in the state. These are store that each generate $1 Million or more in profit per year. As a result, nearly 200 part time employees will lose their jobs. Even the head of the DABC, who ironically doesn’t consume alcohol (his mind altering substance of choice is Mormonism), says the move makes no sense. The thinking of the legislators is people will simply go to another outlet to make their purchases, consolidating the sales into less outlets resulting in less overhead.
What they fail to consider is the customer service aspect. This means less store space and less help to process all these purchases. Drinkers can expect longer lines in state run outlets. We’ll most likely see more instances of depleted inventory. Utah’s legislators really don’t give a shit. They know we have no alternative. And, really…we shouldn’t be sinning anyway, so we deserve the frustration of waiting in line.
While I have my particular concerns and gripes about these moves, it is what it is, and there’s not much I can do about it. But, what irks me even more than these measures is the continued hypocrisy of so many of our state legislators. In my opinion, you cannot scream for less government while increasing the reach of government. You cannot call for the privatization of our government agencies in the name of free markets and capitalism, while at the same time maintaining a monopoly on a fairly large segment of the state’s economy (Utah’s state run liquor stores generate more than $100 Million in profit each year). You cannot say you are the party of business when you make moves that damage a profitable enterprise. You cannot say you’re the party of job creation when you lay off 150 or more employees from profitable businesses. You don’t get to do these things and NOT acknowledge that you’re a hypocrite.
Oh, but these guys do. After all, they have callings. And “R” after their names on the ballot.