Sunday liquor sales could get look as state aims to raise revenue

Some Texas lawmakers struggling to get the state's budget out of the red want to turn to something blue for help.

Blue, as in blue laws, that for decades have prohibited the sale of hard liquor on Sundays.

If state lawmakers did away with that long-standing tradition and let liquor stores in Texas open on Sundays, it could generate an extra $7.4 million in tax revenue for the state, according to a recent Legislative Budget Board report. The report lists Sunday liquor sales among several revenue-raising suggestions.

"I'm for it," said Bob Myers, a recent shopper at King's Liquor on Berry Street in Fort Worth. "Why not let people do what they want?"

Not everyone agrees.

"It's hard for me to believe it would generate additional sales," said Robert Chicotsky, co-owner of Chicotsky's Liquor Store in Fort Worth. "I think you would be cannibalizing Friday and Saturday sales, not necessarily creating more.

"I don't think it's a panacea for increasing the sales tax."

No bills have been filed to lift the ban. It is among recommendations the Legislative Budget Board listed in its recent "Government Effectiveness and Efficiency Report" for Texas lawmakers, suggesting ways to save or generate state dollars. The board is a permanent joint committee of top House and Senate members, including Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus.

Suggestions in the report include a fuel inefficiency surcharge on certain new vehicles, regulating urgent-care centers, modernizing care delivery at state-supported living centers, phasing out economic development tax refunds, requiring state employees to pay more of their health insurance, establishing pill-splitting programs to reduce costs for state employees and increasing state traffic fines to boost traffic safety..

Blue laws

Various blue laws have been in place for hundreds of years, prohibiting the sale of certain goods on Sundays, the traditional day of worship and rest. In some areas, the laws date to the early 1600s and required people to attend church on Sundays.

They evolved through the years, and by the 1960s, they prevented more than 40 items in Texas, ranging from knives to washing machines, from being sold on Saturdays and Sundays. Most of those bans were removed in 1985, though one still prevents auto dealerships from selling vehicles on both weekend days.

And the ban on liquor, which prevents the sale of bottles of distilled spirits because of their volume of alcohol, remains, although beer and wine can be bought at grocery and other stores after noon on Sundays, and bars and restaurants may sell alcoholic drinks after noon on Sundays.

"In a way, it's a stupid law," Chicotsky said. "You can buy all the beer you want and get wasted, but not Jack Daniel's, or Smirnoff or hard liquor. In the end, it's all the same. It's almost hypocritical that they don't let you have the hard alcohol on Sundays."

Texas is one of 14 states that don't allow liquor sales liquor on Sundays, which, according to the budget board report, prevents "the state from maximizing liquor and sales tax revenues."

In recent years, several states have repealed Sunday liquor sales bans "and have realized revenue gains," the report says.

Several local lawmakers say the idea of repeal simply isn't on their radar -- yet. And Republican Gov. Rick Perry hasn't weighed in, either.

"Since bills can change so much throughout the legislative process, we'd have to wait and see what the bill looks like in its final form if/when it makes it to the governor's desk," said Katherine Cesinger, a Perry spokeswoman.

State Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, said he's not sure a repeal is the right move. "I'm not convinced the LBB knows what it's talking about," he said. "It's not going to raise enough money to make it worthwhile. It's nonsense."

Varying reactions

The suggestion to lift the ban in Texas has drawn praise from some in the industry.

"Sunday alcohol sales are an innovative way to generate much-needed revenue without having to raise taxes," said Ben Jenkins, vice president of the Washington, D.C.-based Distilled Spirits Council of the United States. "This is exactly the kind of creative thinking you want to see from legislative leaders -- real support for enterprising small-business owners who want to grow their business and help out the state's bottom line.

"Across the country, states -- including Texas with respect to its steady trend of successful alcohol elections -- are updating their liquor laws to boost state coffers by providing their customers with modern convenience."

Latisha Myers, who was recently shopping at King's Liquor with her husband, said she's all for changing this law. "You ought to be able to get it when you want to," she said.

Chicotsky still isn't sold.

Sundays are his one day off each week because his store can't open.

"I like the law the way it is now," he said. "All my competition is closed on Sundays, too. That's one thing I don't have to worry about. It's a nice benefit to the law.

"The verdict's out for me, but I can't imagine me being open on Sundays."

Anna M. Tinsley, 817-390-7610