Industry

Massachusetts: Gov. Charlie Baker bellies up to liquor license reform

By Matt Stout November 19, 2015
Boston Herald
The Baker administration is looking to reform the state's liquor license laws to keep millennials from abandoning the Bay State in search of better night life.

It's part of a yet-to-be-completed proposal tucked into the administration's draft economic development pitch sent to law­makers this week. The plan offers a range of areas administration officials say are a focus in making "quality of life improvements." It also includes transportation reform as well as investing in the arts, an area Gov. Charlie Baker has so far earned cool reviews on.

Liquor licenses, however, can be a thorny issue on Beacon Hill. Former Gov. Deval Patrick's proposal last year to lift the cap on the number of licenses for beer, wine or alcohol a community can dole out stalled.

In Boston, 75 new liquor licenses were awarded last year by the state Legislature to be handed out over the coming three years. The city currently has 1,025 booze-serving permits and the governor's office is looking to potentially add more here and around the state.

"For us it's about asking the question, how do we create the types of communities that people are going to want to live in?" said Paul McMorrow, a spokesman for the Office of Housing and Economic Development, which drafted the plan. "Liquor licenses enable the type of activities that help create vibrant town centers.

"There could be a variety of ways to get there," he added, "but the goal will be, how do we lower the bar of entry and facilitate the type of activity that is going to help create vibrant, healthy neighborhoods?"

A bill could emerge this winter, but McMorrow said "hypothetically," options could include lifting the cap, adjusting the number each community can get or creating a new class of license geared toward specific economic development activities. "We're real­ly early in the game here," he said.

Melrose Mayor Robert Dolan said the liquor license cap is a "top three" issue for mayors, many of whom want more local control.

"What is happening, take Somerville for instance and other cities, they don't have any more liquor licenses for no reason other than the Legislature wants control of it," he said. "I think everyone from millennials to senior citizens want the best locally."

But Bob Luz, president and CEO of the Mass. Restaurant Association, said any reform needs a careful balance, as those who already have licenses - and in Boston, for example, may have paid upward of $370,000 on the secondary market for one - are uneasy about others scoring them for far cheaper in the same neighborhood.

"How do you make it work for everybody? You can't release the rubber band and change what happened overnight," he said.

McMorrow did not have specifics on how the administration would tackle investing in the arts.