Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Roger Ebert: The Essential Man

I've been a big Ebert fan for years. This article merely reaffirms why:

Roger Ebert: The Essential Man

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Now, This Is Politics...

Oklahoma Senate panel quashes beer, wine proposal | NewsOK.com

Here's the full text of the article with commentary:

A Senate panel rejected a measure that would allow voters to decide if grocery stores could sell strong beer and wine.

The Senate Committee on Business and Labor killed a proposed constitutional amendment to allow grocery stores in Oklahoma and Tulsa counties to sell wine and high-point beer, with four members in favor of the measure and five against it.

Sen. Andrew Rice, D-Oklahoma City, said the measure was an "opening attempt” to change liquor laws in Oklahoma. Senate Joint Resolution 62 would have required voters to approve the change.

Full disclosure: Andrew Rice is my State Senator. I know Andrew, and support him whole-heartedly on most issues. He's a smart, level-headed guy with the best interest of his state and his constituents at heart. I look forward to seeing just how far he'll try to push this issue.

A rejected amendment to the original bill would have allowed Walmart to sell strong beer and wine. Currently in Oklahoma, beer in excess of 3.2 percent alcohol and wines can only be sold in liquor stores, although an exception is allowed for some wine sales at wineries.

Very interesting that they tried to fold Walmart in from the get-go. I would've liked to have heard the reasons why or why not on that one.

"Our liquor laws are antiquated,” Rice said.

In addition to his various other awards, Rice will now be nominated for Understatement of the Year.

Rice said several large grocery stores have inquired about coming to Oklahoma, but the state’s liquor laws that only allow low-point beer to be sold in grocery stores make the state unattractive for new business.

"It’s an economic development issue,” Rice said.

For those of you who don't know this, he's talking about Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, and Central Market. Grocery stores are extremely low-margin businesses, and they typically lose a lot of money while they're getting started. They also are more expensive to operate in urban environments (cost of land, utilities, labor, lack of in-store storage space, etc.). Having wine and strong beer available allows these stores to sell not only higher profit margin products (which subsidize the rest of the products in the store), but also to compete on service by helping their customers assemble full meals. Now, I realize it may shock some people around here to hear that alcohol may actually be consumed WITH meals, but it does happen quite regularly in most parts of the Western world and significant parts of the East.

Back to the point at hand, though. The number one issue regarding downtown (or even Midtown) living is the lack of grocery options within walking distance. Allowing wine and strong beer sales gives smaller specialty grocers a chance to survive, and makes downtown living more feasible (i.e. you don't have to drive everywhere). When downtown living expands, the cost of providing services goes down (because you don't have to transport services as far). When the cost of services goes down, everyone has more disposable income.

Sounds good, right? Not so fast. The bullsh!t meter is starting to make noise:

Sen. Randy Brogdon, R-Owasso, who voted against the measure, said limiting sales to Oklahoma and Tulsa counties would hurt smaller communities.

Now, there's probably three easy ways to look at Sen. Brogdon's statement:

1. He's from Owasso, which would partially qualify (it's in Tulsa and Rogers Counties). His district also contains Catossa, which would not qualify. So, he's voting his district.
2. Virtually all of Owasso's commercial zoning (see their land use map here lies within Tulsa County. Yet, all of the long-term residential growth seems planned for the east in Rogers County. Schools receive their funding from county ad valorem tax assessments. That means less money for Owasso schools on the east side. Just a thought.
3. Keeping wine and strong beer sales in certain areas is restrictive and amounts to government regulation, which Sen. Brogdon absolutely opposes, unlike the current system, which...wait a minute.

Sen. Dan Newberry, R-Tulsa, said the measure would threaten Oklahoma’s liquor stores, which are currently the only stores that can sell high-point beer and wine.

Wow. That's obviously a strong concern for Newberry, who, according to his website (under the Conservative tab), "believes people, not the Government, can and will achieve when given the opportunity." Except liquor stores. They need government. Just not the government Newberry says he wants less of.

Newberry also had reservations about how alcohol would be regulated if it could be sold at a grocery store.

See less government. Except for the good kind. Which doesn't exist. Expect for liquor stores. And the people who shop there. And admit it. Who wouldn't vote for me anyway.

Sen. Tom Adelson, D-Tulsa, said the constitutional amendment would create competition and modernize Oklahoma liquor laws.

Competition, good. Except for liquor stores. And that vote of the people stuff? Since when would we want to allow the people to determine what's best for them? Unless it's TABOR (see Sen. Brogdon again).

Members voting against the measure included Senators Sean Burrage, D-Claremore; Debbe Leftwich, D-Oklahoma City; David Myers, R-Ponca City; Brogdon and Newberry.

Senators voting in favor of the measure were Harry Coates, R-Seminole; Steve Russell, R-Oklahoma City; Adelson and Rice.

It would be way too easy just to blame this all on lobbyist money and influence. Everyone knows that wholesalers hold a tremendous amount of power over liquor law reform (and if you care to hear their side of the story, there's an interesting history of and argument for the Three-Tier System here). This issue, however, is really a retail issue. The big parties against this on the retail side are the big brewers (Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors), who make a lot more money selling the public weak beer rather than strong (they charge the same for brewing at a lower cost), and the retail liquor shops, who get the benefit of selling a controlled product during controlled hours with a controlled amount of competition.

Here's the punch list to think about for today:

1. Why not let the voters decide for themselves?

2. Why do Republicans, who claim to want less government regulation in business, support government regulation of alcoholic beverages?

3. Why shouldn't municipalities (or counties, much like with the Liquor By The Drink issue in the 1980's) be able to control their own situations?

4. Why shouldn't liquor stores be subject to the forces of competition and free enterprise like everyone else?

5. Why should makers of week beer get an unfair advantage over strong beer producers?

Monday, February 15, 2010

It Ain't Rocket Science...

But it IS science. Here's hoping we'll actually listen: