Bay State liquor licensing foibles

Massachusetts lawmakers probably thought they had dispensed with national embarrassment when they criminalized upskirting in record time. They forgot about the state’s bizarre liquor licensing laws, which require cities and towns to petition the Legislature for additional liquor licenses if a community has reached its population-based quota on licenses for restaurant and bars.

A restaurant or bar owner can avoid the time-consuming petition process by trying to buy an existing license. It’s perfectly legal, but the quest for all-too few licenses has produced black market-type pricing in some places. Obtaining a Boston liquor license this way can run anywhere from $265,000 to $285,000 and can potentially set a business owner back as much as $450,000.

  

Slate recently  outlined why the law doesn’t make economic good sense:

Bringing new restaurants and bars into an area is a great way to spur economic development and revitalize communities, just as capping one of the key resources that makes those eateries financially viable is a surefire way to hamper those goals. Massachusetts has an easy and likely inexpensive way of fixing the problem. But when the relics of Puritan culture are so entrenched in a state’s culture and economy, they die especially hard.

When it comes to liquor laws, Gov. Deval Patrick knows what it’s like to die harder.

As part of his economic development package, the governor proposed returning decision-making authority to municipalities. That plan got a big Bronx cheer from the powerful Massachusetts Restaurant Association. The proposal did not appear in the House version of the bill.

Bob Luz, the restaurant association’s CEO, believes any change would unfairly disadvantage current liquor license holders who sometimes use liquor licenses as collateral for borrowing. Mayors like Lowell’s Rodney Elliott fear the crime that might follow with more bars in a given neighborhood.

Rep. Joseph Wagner, the Chicopee Democrat who co-chairs the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies, sees the current law as an important check on communities. “On balance, I think it’s a healthier approach to leave the process as is,” he recently told the State House News Service.

Opponents of the current law are pretty much in Slate’s camp. The Metro West Daily News would like to see the Prohibition-era relic tossed out altogether, but instead urged House lawmakers to amend the bill to restore Patrick’s original proposal.

Sen. Jamie Eldridge, an Acton Democrat, made his case for his own bill in the Daily News, too, joining a long line of municipal leaders including Mayors Marty Walsh of Boston, Joe Curtatone of Somerville,and James Fiorentini of Haverhill who want to dispense with the license caps. Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley has also long been a longtime critic.

Liquor licensing makes for strange bedfellows. Even the Boston Herald is backing the push to see the law to go the way of the 18th Amendment: “[House Speaker Robert] DeLeo and Wagner should entertain amendments to their bill that would restore local control. Being petty or power-hungry is no way to promote growth.”

–GABRIELLE GURLEY 

BEACON HILL

The group that successfully led the fight for marijuana legalization in Colorado is planning to put a legalization question on the ballot in Massachusetts in 2016, CommonWealth reports.

Gov. Deval Patrick wants to spend $20 million addressing opiate addiction following a plan outlined in a new report, WBUR reports. Meanwhile, he visits Middlesex County touting his commitment to job growth in Lowell and Pepperell, the Sun reports.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Fall River Mayor Will Flanagan, in a battle of wills with the City Council over a number of issues, says his administration will initiate a pay-as-you-throw trash disposal program without the council’s approval.

In Lawrence, the city council gives unanimous approval to Mayor Daniel Rivera’s $78 million budget, which adds 10 police officers and cuts spending by $1 million. The school budget, financed largely by the state and currently being run by a state receiver, will increase $11 million to $169 million, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

Worcester moves closer to owning and redeveloping the city’s old courthouse, the Telegram & Gazette reports.

The Lynn City Council votes unanimously to boost Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy’s salary from $82,500 to $145,000 and raise councilor salaries $1,000 to $25,000, the Item reports.

CASINOS

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission begins its formal review of the proposed MGM Resorts International casino in Springfield and says the facility will draw players from central and western Massachusetts and Connecticut, the Associated Press reports.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signs into law a bill that would cut pension benefits and raise retirement ages for some workers at Chicago’s city hall, Governing reports.

Wyoming is upgrading its Internet infrastructure using public-private partnerships, Governing reports.

Massachusetts doesn’t make it into the top-10 list of states with the most government corruption, Fortune reports.

ELECTIONS

Meet David Brat, the economics professor and rising tea party star who pulled off an incredible upset of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. Ezra Klein lists 11 political lessons from the stunning ouster of the Republican’s No. 2 man in the House, while Klein’s new website, Vox, scrubs Brat’s academic papers. A low turnout helped Brat overcome a 25-1 spending disadvantage, says The Daily Beast. The New York Times says if Cantor, who helped instigate a showdown over the debt ceiling, was ousted for insufficient conservatism, rough days are ahead for political moderates. Immigration reform — the flashpoint that helped propel Brat past Cantor — isn’t looking too promising, either. New York rounds up the reactions to Cantor’s defeat, from fear to gloating.

Just days before their primary convention, the Democratic candidates for governor hold a debate where it’s pretty clear they are united on most issues, WBUR reports. The Herald-sponsored debate featured cameos from Republicans Charlie Baker and Mark Fisher, and independent Jeff McCormick. The Herald’s John Nucci says frontrunner Martha Coakley is doing exactly what a frontrunner should be doing. Juliette Kayyem hopes a feisty debate performance Tuesday will catapult her onto the ballot this weekend. The Saturday convention takes place at the same time as the annual Boston Pride Parade, a celebration of the city’s gay and lesbian community, creating an unresolvable conflict for candidates and activists who would like to be in both places.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

President Obama signed legislation that includes funding to dredge Boston Harbor. Massport CEO Tom Glynn laid out the case for the project earlier this year in CommonWealth.

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited a New Bedford seafood processor and a Rhode Island temp agency for the death of a plant worker who was killed in a shucking accident in January.

As low-wage workers prepare to rally for better pay this week, one of those workers says his job is important, even though he isn’t paid well.

The Boston housing boom continues, with plans unveiled for a 60-story luxury condo building in the Back Bay.

The FAA has given the go-ahead to the first commercial drone to fly over US soil.

EDUCATION

In a landmark ruling, a California judge rules tenure job protections for teachers are unconstitutional, the Los Angeles Times reports. A Wall Street Journal editorial celebrates the decision.

A state audit has revealed a number of problems with the fiscal management at Bridgewater State University, including awarding its food service contract without bids and issues with many of the school’s trust funds.

HEALTH CARE

A coalition of hospitals and other providers has joined the chorus of those decrying the tentative approval of Partners HealthCare’s acquisition of at least three more hospitals, a move that adds pressure on Attorney General Martha Coakley, who struck the deal with Partners, as the gubernatorial race she’s part of begins to heat up.

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, which took over the former Jordan Hospital in Plymouth less than six months ago, announced cutbacks and layoffs totaling about 1 percent of the South Shore facility’s workforce.

Greater Boston looks at the continuing allure of steroid use.

TRANSPORTATION

The Wall Street Journal rounds up efforts by states to plug a looming drop in federal highway funds.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

A Vermont climate change assessment indicates the ski industry could benefit in the short-term but end up with little or no snow in 40 years as the winters become warmer and warmer, NECN reports.

If you’ve got ’em, forget ’em: Smoking has been banned on the Cape’s guarded National Seashore beaches.

How does a turtle cross the road? If in Greenfield, it’s with a little help from a town police officer.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Federal prosecutors reveal the political hardball and mundane bookkeeping needed to feed the patronage machine on Beacon Hill, CommonWealth reports.

Black judges in Massachusetts are rated much more negatively than their white counterparts by lawyers submitting anonymous evaluations, reports Globe columnist Adrian Walker, a finding that he says is stirring considerable soul-searching among the judiciary and “deep anguish” among black judges and lawyers.

A Salem police captain in charge of detail work is suspended amid reports he worked details while on duty and improperly documented his hours, the Salem News reports.

Quincy police have charged three South Boston residents with stealing clothes out of local donation bins and selling the clothes at area flea markets.

MEDIA

Meet the Author

Gabrielle Gurley

Senior Associate Editor, CommonWealth

About Gabrielle Gurley

Gabrielle covers several beats, including mass transit, municipal government, child welfare, and energy and the environment. Her recent articles have explored municipal hiring practices in Pittsfield, public defender pay, and medical marijuana, and she has won several national journalism awards for her work. Prior to coming to CommonWealth in 2005, Gabrielle wrote for the State House News Service, The Boston Globe, and other publications. She launched her media career in broadcast journalism with C-SPAN in Washington, DC. The Philadelphia native holds degrees from Boston College and Georgetown University.

About Gabrielle Gurley

Gabrielle covers several beats, including mass transit, municipal government, child welfare, and energy and the environment. Her recent articles have explored municipal hiring practices in Pittsfield, public defender pay, and medical marijuana, and she has won several national journalism awards for her work. Prior to coming to CommonWealth in 2005, Gabrielle wrote for the State House News Service, The Boston Globe, and other publications. She launched her media career in broadcast journalism with C-SPAN in Washington, DC. The Philadelphia native holds degrees from Boston College and Georgetown University.

Do print magazines have a future?

Miss Indiana didn’t win the Miss USA pageant, but she turned a lot of heads for having a body that is more normal than most of her rivals.