Herbert questions closure of liquor stores

By Josh Loftin

Associated Press

Published: Friday, March 25 2011 11:37 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Legislature's plan to close some profitable liquor stores and change the state's liquor laws came under fire from Gov. Gary Herbert and liquor commissioners Thursday.

Closing stores that bring millions of dollars into state coffers is puzzling, especially during a slow economy, Herbert said.

Herbert didn't recommend any closures in his budget proposal. The Legislature passed a budget that cut more than $2 million from the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control's budget, which would come from closing stores and reducing hours at the remaining stores.

"All of us wonder why, if you're making money, why you would close those stores," Herbert said. "But cuts are being mandated" by the Legislature.

Instead of "micromanaging the process," officials should let liquor commissioners decide how to cut their budget, Herbert said during the taping of a monthly news conference on PBS station KUED.

Liquor commissioners, meanwhile, balked at the Legislature's decisions on liquor policy during their monthly meeting.

The five members of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission voted unanimously Thursday to send a letter to Herbert urging him to veto Senate Bill 314, which was approved by the Legislature earlier this month.

That bill makes many changes to the state's liquor laws, including the elimination of daily drink specials, an increase in the number of liquor licenses for restaurants and permitting individual drinks to be delivered through room service.

Commissioners were particularly critical of a provision in the bill that gives the governor the power to appoint the commission chairman, instead of commissioners choosing their own. They also oppose a provision that allows licenses to be sold privately because they say it will hurt small businesses.

As for closing the stores, Chairman Sam Granato said it makes no sense from a business standpoint.

Still, the commission expanded the number of liquor stores being considered for closing from eight to 11. Almost all of the stores are within a couple of miles of other stores, and legislators have argued the state will not lose much money because people will still buy the high-alcohol beer, wine and liquor sold by the state.

Liquor stores will be able to operate only eight hours a day, so most will close at 7 p.m. All state liquor stores are closed Sundays.

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