Guv expresses interest in grocery store liquor sales

Published: Thursday, Nov. 17 2011 4:22 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Gary Herbert said Thursday he is interested in a new recommendation that grocery stores be allowed to sell alcohol.

"Maybe that has some merit," the governor said during the taping of his monthly news conference on KUED, Ch. 7. "It kind of perks my interest. I'd like to explore at least the possibility."

The idea of shifting at least some alcohol sales from state liquor stores to supermarkets was raised in a report made to lawmakers Wednesday by a Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control consultant.

The governor said he didn't know if making high alcohol content beer, wine and liquor available near where groceries are sold is something Utahns would accept.

But Herbert said he understood alcohol sales would be through "a separate entrance in a different part of the building, so it would be where you would co-mingle with others — kind of an adults-only kind of location."

Still, he said, that might not be the fix the troubled agency needs.

A recent legislative audit said DABC had been "incompetently managed" and accused the former executive director of committing a felony by doing business with a company owned by his son — charges being investigated by the Utah Attorney General's Office.

"I don't know if there is a problem other than we've got some people who have broken the law or at least certainly have been incompetent in the management of the existing system," the governor said.

But, he said, "I'm always looking for ways to improve and if there's some recommendations, we ought to consider them ... and see if there's a better way to build a mousetrap. If there is, we'll build it."

Herbert said he expects plenty of discussion next legislative session about the government's role in alcohol sales.

"It'll be all the way from full-blown privatization to some compromise to just strengthening the commission and oversight," the governor said. "Frankly, we need to have the discussion."

He said he did not expect "a great deal of wholesale change" because the current system has served the state well over time.

"But there's an evolution that takes place," Herbert said. "What the market will bear as far as making change, I think we want to be methodical about it and not reactionary here because of a problem that was probably a personal issue as opposed to a structural issue."

The governor also commented on a proposed earmark on sales taxes to help pay for a Lake Powell pipeline that was endorsed by the Legislature's water task force this week.

While Herbert said he needed to see more details before taking a position, he said the earmark was less of a concern than having all taxpayers contribute toward a southern Utah project.

"I would be concerned more about the fact we're going to earmark it and have all of the state subsidize and pay for a system that's only going to be used by southern Utah," he said. "I don't think that's good policy. I think that the users of services ought to be the ones that pay for it."

And Herbert said he was not surprised that he has a GOP challenger in his bid for re-election, Rep. Ken Sumsion, R-American Fork.

"That's just the nature of the business," the governor said. "We've got a great message and I'm proud to run on my record."

E-mail: lisa@desnews.com, Twitter: dnewspolitics

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