Ending Texas' ban on Sunday liquor sales would shift economics

Posted Wednesday, Mar. 20, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Are expanded liquor-selling hours in Texas a revenue boon? The work of the devil? A so-so idea whose time has not yet come?

Efforts to end the state's ban on Sunday liquor sales at package stores have new champions this legislative session, but there isn't unified support among the businesses that the change would affect.

State Rep. Senfronia Thompson's HB 421 and Sen. Juan Hinojosa's SB 236 would let liquor stores open 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday (instead of 10 a.m.-9 p.m.) and noon to 10 p.m. on Sunday.

At a hearing this week, supporters of dropping one of the last vestiges of the state's "blue laws" included the Texas Hospitality Association, the Distilled Spirits Council and a chain that operates along the Texas-Mexico border. They framed the debate as a matter of giving consumers the freedom to shop when they want for what they want; of giving liquor stores a competitive chance against other businesses -- convenience stores, supermarkets, stores in Mexico -- that can open seven days a week; even of avoiding hard liquor alongside beer and wine in grocery stores.

The Texas Package Stores Association countered that, for more than 1,600 "mom and pop" shops, it was a matter of financial survival and preserving their treasured one day a week to rest.

The Legislative Budget Board estimated that expanded hours would generate $8.5 million in additional sales tax, but that assumes more people will buy more booze, not just delay purchases until Sunday afternoons.

Opponents say an extra day won't generate enough added sales for them to justify opening Sundays. The comptroller says there would be "no significant fiscal impact" for cities that receive sales tax funds from alcohol sales.

Questions about more drunk driving or alcoholism or price spikes to cover additional operating costs are open to debate.

The Sunday-closing law remains a peculiar government policy when grocery and convenience stores stock beer and wine and licensed restaurants can sell mixed drinks.

But changing the law wouldn't "level the playing field," as the argument goes -- it would shift the economic advantage, from smaller stores to larger operations. It's important to understand who would really benefit.

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