Amy Roberts: Prophet over profit
May 26, 2015
You can’t fix stupid, but apparently, you can elect it.
During the 2015 legislative session Utah lawmakers chopped half a million dollars from the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (DABC) budget, despite record profits. To make up for the $500,000 budget cut, the DABC is relying largely on attrition, meaning that many employees who are quitting or retiring won’t be replaced.
Now there are just two regional managers to oversee 43 state-owned liquor stores and most store managers are responsible for multiple stores. Not surprisingly, employees are frustrated by the longer checkout lines and limited customer service they are able to offer. Customers are upset too. Fewer employees means longer wait times and shelves that need restocking. These things happen when a business is understaffed.
I have to wonder if this is all part of the Utah legislature’s plan. Make a trip to the liquor store so frustrating and time-consuming people will give up drinking?
Kristen Reese Winder, a former wine rep who was licensed by the DABC and eventually walked away from the business because of the DABC, recently published an op-ed in The Salt Lake Tribune about her experience trying to earn a living as a wine seller in Utah.
In her editorial she noted she and others in the business were "treated with disdain by officials of the DABC and commissioners." She also wrote that her senator was taken aside by a representative of the LDS Church and told to squash legislation she was fighting for. Things like having someone who actually consumed alcohol to be appointed as a DABC commissioner. Most troubling, she wrote: "We were told by officials of the DABC that no changes or liquor legislation would be successful without being first sanctioned by LDS Church authorities."
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Which is interesting considering the Utah statute governing alcoholic beverages states the policies "shall be administered in a manner that is ‘nonpartisan’ and free of partisan political influence." It also states, "Alcoholic product control shall be operated as a public business using sound management principles and practices." And it includes it "shall function with the intent of servicing the public demand for alcoholic products."
The hypocrisy of it all is enough to make me need a stiff drink.
How is cutting funding at a time of record profits, and therefore, one can assume, record demand, be "serving the public demand for alcoholic products?" How is cutting funding of a successful business using "sound management principles and practices?" And "free of partisan political influence?" Please. Even after an entire bottle of wine you couldn’t get me to believe that.
Wouldn’t it be great if someone had one of those really convenient visions right now? The one about privatizing alcohol sales.
Only the Utah legislature could say: "Oh my heck. We are making a huge profit at liquor stores. We must fix this and cut the budget!"
During the last fiscal year, state liquor sales were up nearly 6 percent, bringing in about $367 million. In the first nine months of the current fiscal year (July 2014 through March 2015) alcohol sales were up over $21 million from the same period as last year.
The DABC is required by law to return all its profits to the state, with most of the funds going towards the general operating fund. The revenue from sales tax on alcohol helps to fund school lunch and public-safety programs.
But I think the money should go specifically to the grammar departments at elementary schools. I say this because our Utah-educated governor recently said the current system is "working good."
Who can argue with that kind of well-articulated reasoning?
Amy Roberts is a longtime Park City resident, freelance writer and the proud owner of two ill-behaved rescue dogs, Boston and Stanley.
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