Idaho budget writers have put off setting the budget for the Idaho State Liquor Division due to a split down the middle over whether to expand the hours at some state-run liquor stores.
Gov. Butch Otter recommended the liquor division’s plan to expand evening, weekend, and holiday hours at 27 of Idaho’s state-run liquor stores, but lawmakers on the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee (JFAC) Monday split 10-10 on the expanded hours plan. The committee voted to hold off setting the liquor division’s budget until Tuesday.
Supporters of the expanded hours say it would make shopping for liquor more convenient and raise funds for the state government.
“The agency has taken a very thoughtful, conservative approach to the expansion of hours and days,” said Sen. Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle. The liquor division’s expanded hours would cost $455,000, due to added staffing, and is projected to raise $2.2 million during the next budget year.
Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, said the longer hours would be helpful in vacation spots in the state. “I think we should leave it up to our managers to look at the markets,” said Keough.
Opponents said added hours would also lead to Idahoans drinking more alcohol. “I don’t believe that the state should be in the business of encouraging consumption of alcohol by expanding store hours,” said Rep. John Vander Woude, R-Meridian.
Stores that are part of the expansion plan would keep their doors open until 9 p.m., as opposed the standard 7 p.m. closing time. Those stores could also be open on Sundays and some holidays. Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover, said staying open later could lead to problem drinking.
“This is the getting in trouble time,” Eskridge said. He also said that expanding hours to raise funds could open the door for a plan to privatize liquor sales, which is currently controlled by the state government.
Liquor Division Director Jeff Anderson said his agency looked into whether the extra hours would lead to problems. “If we had a concern, we wouldn’t have recommended it,” Anderson said. He said that the Idaho State Police told him that problems stemming from drinking start after 10 p.m. Anderson also doesn’t favor privatizing liquor sales.
Eskridge said he’ll propose limiting the expanded hours to four stores, rather than Anderson’s recommended 27 stores. Those stores would be in Sandpoint, McCall, Ketchum, and Boise. Approximately 10 state-run liquor stores are already open until 9 p.m. and 35 stores have Sunday hours, according to Anderson.
The liquor division has a $16 million budget, which is paid for by liquor sales, not state tax dollars. JFAC didn’t consider the proposed $8 million fund shift from a liquor division fund to Idaho’s general fund, though the committee will take up that effort to help balance the state’s budget later in the budget-writing process.