Legislative Testimony: Sunday Alcohol Sales

BThe Indiana Chamber’s Cam Carter testified today in support of Sunday liquor sales, but opposition to the amended House Bill 1624 by Rep. Tom Dermody (R-LaPorte).

The Indiana Chamber of Commerce supports the retail sale of alcoholic beverages for carryout on Sunday – for ALL classes of licensed retailers. We believe this would improve Indiana’s business climate and be a big win for consumers who want to see this modest and common sense change to existing law. A law that has remained on the books for far too long. A debate, in our estimation, that has gone on for far too long – and we are not alone in this opinion. Polling shows a growing majority of Hoosiers want this change.

You have the power – and the responsibility – to bring this change about by passing Sunday sales. However, to do so, you must craft a compromise between the liquor stores who have fought this change year after year after year, and other retailers, “big box” or otherwise, who have sought this change for just as long.

We supported the introduced version of HB 1624 and still do. We were encouraged when we heard rumors about a “compromise” on this issue; indeed one media outlet reported that a “compromise” had been reached. We began to rejoice.

But, then we saw the chairman’s amendment and we knew that no such compromise had been reached. Indeed, we were not invited to a negotiation. A negotiation between two liquor stores or their lobbyists is not a compromise.

To have a true compromise, you have to have two sides agree on something. Yet, the two sides on this issue agree on nothing. In fact, their roles have reversed since the introduction of the amendment with liquor stores now quoted in the media as supporting it and historical supporters of Sunday sales opposing it.

Why this sudden role reversal? Sometimes to ask a question is to answer it. So, with all due respect, the amendment under consideration today falls short of being a good faith effort at a workable compromise. It is objectively one-sided with all of the burdens placed on one class of alcohol retailer to their competitive disadvantage. And, that class is every single retailer that is NOT a package liquor store.

Under the amendment, liquor stores change nothing about their business model except they can now open on Sunday, if they choose. Their competitors? They have new, unacceptable regulations placed upon their stores, their personnel, and most importantly their customers.

Anyone with any familiarity with the Sunday sales issue had to know that this amendment would be unacceptable. The cost of retrofitting retail stores alone will run to at least $50-$60 million by conservative estimates and will affect all non-liquor store retailers large or small, big box or mom-and-pop. Some may be unable to comply with the provisions of this amendment at all.

Retrofitting is only the beginning of the economic costs represented by this amendment. Consumers will not stand for turning back the clock some 40-50 years and moving distilled spirits back “behind the counter”; that model of retailing can be seen at the Hook’s Museum and that is rightly where it belongs – in a museum.

Today’s consumers will revolt at being forced by you, elected members of the Indiana General Assembly, to go to “Tony with the name tag” at a separate counter or checkout lane, to then ask for a specific type of alcohol, a specific brand of alcohol and a specific bottle size.

To what end, one may ask, are lawmakers putting me through this when all I want is a little rum to mix with my lime and Coke? And, this new, government-imposed restriction will hassle consumers not just on Sunday, but every single day of the week.

Consumers will be needlessly inconvenienced and they will rebel. Just a couple of years ago they wanted your heads on pikes for carding them if they looked under the age of 40! Remember that? Passed in one session, repealed the next. Total run time: less than a year.

Do you think they will accept the serial inconveniences in this amendment? No, they will not. There will be a backlash, deservedly so, and it won’t be aimed at the businesses selling alcohol.

This is not the commonsense reform that Hoosiers are asking for. It is concierge legislating for the liquor store lobby. No one here is fooled by this so-called “compromise”, and here’s the trick box you’ve placed yourselves in by trying to place advocates of Sunday sales in a similar box:

With talk of a “compromise,” the public now EXPECTS you to deliver on Sunday sales. They’ve been reading about it for months now and, suddenly, a (so-called) compromise is here! The public doesn’t do nuance and they could care less about the machinations inside this building or the welfare of lobbyists, liquor store owners or this or that grocery store chain.

All they want is to be able to conveniently buy alcohol on Sunday like residents of other states do. It is not an unreasonable expectation. But, this is an unreasonable amendment that places unreasonable burdens on consumers.

With that, I’ll conclude the Indiana Chamber’s support of Sunday sales but opposition to the bill as amended.

On Tap in ’15: Road Funding, Sunday Alcohol Sales and 21st Century Fund

Republican supermajorities and the biennial budget will be the context for all issues during the 2015 Indiana General Assembly, as a two-year budget must be passed and any caucus with 71 members (e.g., House Republicans) inevitably will have its internal disagreements. But, in the areas of economic development and infrastructure, another contextual factor will be a major road funding study by the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) due in summer 2015 – after the Legislature has adjourned.

This INDOT study will examine existing fuel excise taxes, their future revenue potential and alternative funding mechanisms and revenue streams, such as vehicle miles traveled (VMT) or tolling. The study will provide a tool to address an acknowledged $750 million annual funding gap between current revenues and identified maintenance needs, let alone any new projects (such as third lanes on congested portions of Indiana interstates).

Legislative leadership and fiscal and transportation policy experts within the General Assembly seem content to await the results of the INDOT study before pursuing any significant changes to the way Indiana funds its roads, bridges and highways. Nevertheless, in the 2015 session we expect issues such as fees for electric or alternative-fuel vehicles to be addressed; examination of using more revenue from the 7% sales tax on gasoline for the state’s highway fund; and a discussion of indexing fuel taxes for inflation.

The INDOT study follows a report by the Governor’s Blue Ribbon Panel on Transportation Infrastructure identifying a set of priority projects and laying out a long-term vision for surface transportation infrastructure across Indiana. This report includes recommendations for waterborne, air and rail commerce that may be taken up by the General Assembly, including the creation of dedicated funds for these important modes of transportation.

Likewise, while the final segment of Interstate 69 has yet to undergo regulatory review and be announced, current law prevents it from running through Perry Township in Marion County as an option; we expect legislation to remove that prohibition to be introduced. We also expect investment in next-generation telecommunications infrastructure to be addressed through legislation that streamlines zoning and regulatory approvals, seeking to make them less cumbersome and more consistent across different political jurisdictions within the state.

In the area of economic development, many items will be discussed. Along with continued reform of Indiana’s business personal property tax, other anticipated issues include: examination of tax increment financing (TIF) districts; repealing Indiana’s ban on the Sunday sales of alcohol; increasing production limits on craft breweries; renewal and reform of the state’s 21st Century Fund; film production incentives; and review of both the existing patent-derived income tax exemption and the state’s venture capital tax credit.

Indeed, we expect a major thrust for fiscal leaders this session to be a re-examination of many of the state’s existing economic development programs and tax provisions, as well as discussion of a new Regional Cities Initiative by the Indiana Economic Development Corporation and the Pence administration.

Given mixed economic signals and the continued emphasis on job creation, we anticipate it will be a very busy session.