When evaluating Gov. David A. Paterson's proposal to legalize wine sales in 19,000 new outlets, including grocery stores, delis, gas stations and bodegas, I considered two factors: the impact on jobs and our economy, and the impact on our teenagers. The plan fails on both counts.
Some wine store owners say 40 percent of the stores will go out of business. Even if that number is twice as high as reality, that still means more than 2,200 people would be put out of work. That doesn't make any sense, especially considering that grocery stores will not create a single new job just because they add a new product.
Proponents contend it will help upstate by bolstering New York State wineries, but that argument falls short. There are about 100 state wineries opposed to this legislation because it will hurt their industry, not help it. These small businesses make a limited amount of wine each year and could never sell to grocery stores simply because they don't have enough supply.
Grocery stores look to buy in bulk, and will go for the discount wines so they can sell them quickly. That means cheap, imported wines will get shelf space, while New York wines will be left out. New York wineries count on the small wine retailers to reach customers, and will suffer a double insult as these stores go out of business and they find themselves shut out of grocery stores.
So from a jobs perspective, and economic development perspective, this plan doesn't measure up. Any plan that reduces jobs and doesn't deliver real economic growth is simply a non-starter.
Clearly, we also have an obligation to first "do no harm" as it relates to our teenagers. Our young people face enormous challenges today, much more than when I was growing up, and they need our help and support. Because this plan would make wine more accessible to teenagers, it must be rejected.
Wine is not a food and it is not beer. Wine has three to four times more alcohol in it than beer. And we know from a Columbia University study that teenage girls who have tried alcohol would rather drink wine than beer if given a choice. That's a recipe for trouble.
New York already spends $3.2 billion every year to deal with the impacts of underage drinking, from accidents and violence, to teen pregnancies and diseases. In fact, officials at the State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services say that underage drinking is the No. 1 substance abuse problem in New York State today.
It is a hard truth that teens will have an easy time getting wine if it's available in every deli, gas station, bodega and corner store, rather than limited to small, owner-operated wine and liquor stores. That is where it belongs and where it should stay.
We need to do more to protect our young people, and create jobs and opportunity for all New Yorkers. That's why I oppose Paterson's wine in grocery stores plan.
Peter J. Abbate Jr., D-Brooklyn, represents the 49th Assembly District.