Letter from Todd Brocker, Director of the Center for Economic Education
I knew it wouldn’t take long after Murray’s vote to become “wet” in 2012 for people to start clamoring for even more expansion of alcohol sales.
There have been at least two articles just this spring in The Murray State News (including in last week’s issue) making arguments to expand alcohol sales to Sundays, a day on which alcohol sales are currently prohibited. But what are the facts surrounding this issue?
First, so called “Blue Laws” (laws prohibiting certain activities on Sunday) are not at all unique to Murray or even Kentucky. Even “progressive” states like New York, Minnesota and Pennsylvania have restricted alcohol sales on Sundays. Maybe these laws are arcane and should be repealed, but Murray is not some “backward” place for having them.
Second, the hype surrounding our alcohol laws and new restaurant growth is way overblown. Historically, when Murray voted to allow alcohol sales in restaurants in 2000, we were told that Red Lobster, O’Charley’s, Chili’s and other chain restaurants would come flooding into town.
Then, in the 2012 “wet” vote, it was implied we were supposed to get new restaurants like Logan’s Roadhouse and Olive Garden. None of those predictions have yet come to fruition. We did get chains like Fazoli’s and Panera Bread, but it’s hard to believe that changing alcohol laws had anything to do with restaurants that don’t even serve alcohol.
Despite this, now we are supposed to believe that expanding alcohol sales to Sundays will miraculously bring Buffalo Wild Wings and similar restaurants to Murray. I appreciate the honesty of Murray’s own Chamber of Commerce president in last week’s The Murray State News article when he said he’s not aware of the alcohol policy deterring any restaurant from coming to Murray.
Finally, we have to be honest about what expanded alcohol sales means for our community. I am not against responsible drinking, but the facts are that expanded alcohol sales inevitably lead to more abuses of the substance. An analysis I did in 2012 using Kentucky State Police Statistics showed that “wet” counties were significantly more likely to experience alcohol-related crime than “dry” counties, even after controlling for population and other demographic factors.
But don’t just take my word for it. According to an August 2014 Murray Ledger & Times article, Murray DUI charges have risen almost 30 percent since voting “wet.” In the same time period (2011-13) alcohol-related traffic collisions rose almost 27 percent and liquor law violations increased by 800 percent.
Those statistics came directly from our local Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) administrator, who still had the audacity to say that “the numbers show no dramatic increase in alcohol-related crime.” If these numbers aren’t significant, then I would be interested in knowing what our local authorities would consider a dramatic increase in alcohol-related crime.
For better or worse, Murray is not located right outside Nashville, Tenn., Louisville, Ky., or St. Louis.
We will never have the same number or variety of restaurants as those places. This is because of basic geography, population and socioeconomic factors, not because of our alcohol laws. The evidence in Murray has consistently shown that expanding alcohol sales will raise some tax revenue but in exchange for more abuses of alcohol which can negatively affect my family and yours.