The Utah State Legislature is not renowned for its wisdom. However, in a somewhat enlightened move, a bill to issue 90 new restaurant liquor licenses breezed through a special session of the Legislature yesterday. The bill will allow for the addition of 50 full-service and 40 limited-service licenses for Utah restaurants. It will also add four new Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control enforcement officers, as well as added funding for Utah Highway Patrol DUI stings.
The granting of the additional licenses is a good thing. But, is it good enough?
Why have any quota or limit on licenses in the first place?
Alcohol sales are the backbone of restaurant profits both in Utah and elsewhere, particularly in higher-end eateries. Alcohol sales also contribute mightily to Utah's tax base. Ninety licenses might sound like a lot, but that's for the entire state of Utah, and they'll be snatched up before you can say, "wine list, please." I personally know of dozens of restaurateurs not-so-patiently awaiting licenses, as well as restaurateurs who won't set foot in Utah, thanks to the difficulty in obtaining licenses.
In a country where politicians speak more and more of unrestrained, unfettered capitalism, why the stinginess with liquor licenses, unless there's an aspect of moral control at work?
And, we increasingly hear about the all-important "job creators." What are restaurateurs if not job creators? Shouldn't we do everything possible to unshackle them and allow them to create jobs and profits for Utah and Utahns?
The Legislature did the right thing by giving restaurateurs 90 new alcohol licenses. Now, it needs to finish the job by getting out of the way and providing a license to every restaurateur that legally qualifies for one.