Hoppe for Reform of Sunday Sales?

fullcoloronblackIn mid-afternoon on April 8, 2015 in Room 10 of the Minnesota State Office Building, Rep. Joe Hoppe (R; 47B) called the House Commerce and Regulatory Reform Committee to order and quickly turned to Rep. Jenifer Loon (R; 48B) to concisely review the two bills she has offered to the legislature. The video clip includes an exchange between Loon and Rep. Raymond Dehn (DFL; 59B) that she deftly plays to good effect. Dehn’s logically-challenged and vaguely emotional broadside of store owners was reminiscent of satirical parody. Especially in light of the preceding testimony from a number of business owners of precisely the type Dehn called out. By my count, 10 people testified in support of the Loon Bills. At least 4 of these were retailers and 2 represent consortia of retailers and manufacturers.

Rep. Dehn’s puzzlement as to the motivation of small business owners and right-minded legislators with regard to repeal of Sunday sales prohibition was quelled by the Q&A with Rep. Sarah Anderson (R; 49A) that got right to the nub of the biscuit when she asked the assembled retailers to estimate how much business they lose every Sunday.

When Dave Erickson, D’Erick’s Tower Liquor, testifies that at least a dozen and at most 50 people seeking off-sale liquor are turned away from his store on any given Sunday, I think about all the dollars hitch-hiking to neighboring states with thirsty Minnesotans every weekend. It strikes me that Dave’s story is the mirror image of that cross-border parade because he is talking about disappointing tourists from other states when they try to buy a few MN beers on their way out of town after having the time of their lives exploring Tower and Lake Vermillion. It is important because when retailers that depend on tourism fail to capture those outside dollars the entire region loses that particular piece of pie. If people stay home, or choose to visit a more reasonable destination, because they do not want to be caught up in the backward archaic Blue Laws in Minnesota, its a few more money dollars lost.

Jason Alvey, The Four Firkins Beer Stores, suggests that economic benefit to the tune of $3000-5000 per week might be realized by closing on Monday and opening on Sunday. Monday is traditionally the least active day of the week for liquor stores, while Sunday may well be one of the best days for retail sales. This argument undercuts the contention that opening on Sunday will prove a losing proposition for some retailers. At a minimum, Alvey’s analysis suggest that without changing the number of days open in a week, stores could realize more sales by closing on a slow day and opening on Sunday.

When I hear Jason Alvey talking about losing significant revenue every Sunday that he is prevented from opening his doors at The Four Firkins, I think about all the local businesses his stores support with the dollars you and I spent there last week. I mean, small businesses turn it over just that quick. When you spend locally, a piece of your money cycles back and does for a positive economy what vaccination is said to do for the the proverbial herd. It makes our economic community more robust from the grass roots up.

Rep. Anderson lobbed the next soft ball right into David Ozgo’s sweet spot and he got extra bases with his estimate of $11 -15 million of increased tax revenues if Sunday sales are allowed. Taken in context of the testimony of Alvey and Erickson, among others, that point to beneficial increases in local cash flow through the private sector, the increased tax revenues indicate a parallel enhancement in the public sector funds. I see the increased tax revenue from Sunday sales as a kind of silent tax increase. The state gets more revenue, but no one feels particularly beset by the tax collector. Instead, we’ll be rejoicing that we can buy packaged booze and beer on Sunday while happily spilling cash into our chosen Sin Tax bucket as we sample another session beer and take notes for the upcoming bottle share. Even if all your faith system will allow you to think should be done with a budget surplus such as we have is to write your own version of a Jesse Check or a GWB Check you must agree that more surplus is better than less surplus because, if nothing else, bigger checks mean more votes and sloppier slush funds for attack ads.

The two preceding video clips highlight the main economic arguments for the repeal of Sunday sales prohibition. They suggest that the change will benefit the private and public sectors through increased sales and tax revenues respectively. It is not all the time that public and private economic interests align and in this case the will of the people resonates with reform as well. The impact of the hearing depicted in these clips has been to solidify a base of support for Sunday sales reform. Instrumental to the recent success have been Reps. Jenifer Loon and Sarah Anderson, who with the guidance of Chair Joe Hoppe have set the table for the MN Republicans to make reform of liquor distribution laws a central issue for their caucus moving forward.

The last word here belongs to Rep. Loon. In response to Rep. Dehn she undercuts his argument that liquor retailers should not petition to change distribution laws because these are time-tested and effective. Of course, the testimony of the supporters of repealing Sunday sales prohibition strongly undercuts the cynicism of Rep. Dehn and should offer him a way out of the politically untenable morass into which he and the DFL have stumbled.





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