From the Arkansas Statehouse...

Alcoholic Beverage Control overhaul hits setback.

In Booze News on 27 January 2009 at 3:12 pm

Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) director Michael Langley’s proposal to double funding for the agency through fee hikes hit a roadblock today in the Senate State Agencies Committee. The committee told Langley to revise the bill after wholesalers complained that the legislation will increase their annual permit fees by nearly 4,000 percent.

The bill would raise the yearly permit price for a wine and spirits wholesaler from $300 to $11,800. Testifying for Custom Beverage, a wine distributor with about $400,000 in annual sales, Steve Lucchi and Bruce Cochran said that perhaps large businesses could sustain the increase, but that small businesses would be hurt.

Committee members gave Langley a tongue-lashing for the wholesaler-fee increase. Langley countered that the fee has not been raised since 1935 and that a fee that kept up with inflation would have amounted to about $28,000.

Langley estimated that the largest wholesaler in the state makes $15-$20 million annually.

Sen. Kim Hendren suggested that the law establish minimum wholesaler fees and then extract an extra tax based on volume of sales.

Other provisions of the bill were noncontroversial and received support from beer distributors and retailers.

The bill is an attempt to double ABC’s annual budget from its current $1.6 million to $3.1 million. The extra money would be used to up enforcement and improve technology at the agency office, Langley said. A number of fee increases are included in the bill, including one that would raise the cost of a private-club permit from $500 a year to $1500 a year.

The bill also includes a simplification of Sunday drinking laws. On-premise alcohol vendors would no longer have to follow special Sunday permitting procedures and regulations. Their permits would cover alcohol sales from 10 a.m. to midnight on Sundays. Liquor stores and other off-premise vendors could sell liquor during the same Sunday hours pending local referenda. Current rules restrict Sunday alcohol sales from noon to 10 p.m.

For the tangled details on what it takes to buy and sell hooch in the State of Arkansas, check out the 26-page bill here.

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