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Opponents misstating facts in bid to prevent change

Gov. David A. Paterson's proposal to allow for the sale of wine in grocery stores continues to elicit strong reactions from stakeholders on both sides of the issue. As the state budget discussions and related wine in grocery stores debate intensifies, we must maintain factual clarity.

The governor's proposal will meet three objectives. First, it will promote New York State's grape-growing and wine-making industries by expanding the markets available to sell wine. This new demand for wine will translate into the need to increase production and increase employment opportunities in these industries.

Second, the proposal will provide wine consumers in New York with the choice and price competition they deserve. New York's Alcoholic Beverage Control Laws, which are antiquated and in the process of a comprehensive overhaul proposed by the State Liquor Authority, do not reflect the realities of consumer demand and shopping patterns more than 70 years after their enactment.

Third, the reality is that the proposal will create a much-needed source of new revenue for the state in order to fund essential government programs and services that would otherwise be cut more deeply in the face of the $9.2 billion budget deficit.

Opponents have argued that an influx of 19,000 "new" licensees will be an insurmountable enforcement challenge. This is simply not true. In fact, that number is derived from existing stores currently holding beer licenses that would be eligible to apply for a license to sell wine, and therefore are already under the enforcement program. The wine license in these cases would not be creating a new licensee, but instead would be granting new privileges to existing licensees.

Opponents also claim the proposal will facilitate the sale to minors and others at all hours of the day and night. Again, this is simply not true. The reality is that the hours wine could be sold in grocery stores will mirror the hours during which liquor stores are currently allowed to operate. In other words, grocery stores that will opt to sell wine in a county that requires liquor stores to close at 9 p.m. will not be able to sell wine past 9 p.m.

With regard to the contention that wine consumption among minors will result from this change, it must be noted that the same standard of supervision over persons selling beer in grocery stores will apply to the sale of wine in those same stores -- already under the enforcement jurisdiction of the Liquor Authority, so this will not appreciably add to the enforcement burden.

In fact, many of the authority's enforcement efforts are based on cooperative relationships with, and referrals from, law enforcement agencies. The expectation is that the strength of these relationships will continue to grow.

Dennis Rosen is chairman of the State Liquor Authority. Patrick Hooker is commissioner of the State Department of Agriculture and Markets.

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