Our state’s outdated liquor license process has become a drag on the economic prosperity and health of our cities and towns. Under the current law, which has been on the books since the Prohibition era, municipalities aiming to increase the number of liquor licenses must file a home rule petition that needs the approval of the legislature. Some of these petitions can languish on Beacon Hill for months, threatening the success of up-and-coming restaurants which hold the key to the economic livelihood of our cities and towns. A few years ago the town of Westborough requested a home rule petition to allow a new restaurant to apply for a liquor license. After dragging on over six months, the Westborough legislative delegation successfully passed the bill.
Needless to say, times have changed a century after Prohibition and Massachusetts families and restaurant owners alike face a complex new set of challenges. More than ever, economic competitiveness depends on the growth of areas that connect people, in one form or another, with dynamic nightlife, restaurants and high quality services. Providing local governments with control over the number of liquor licenses they offer streamlines the process and allows local governments to better meet the needs of business owners. When it comes to the renewal and revitalization of our communities, it is best left in the hands of municipalities to make decisions.
This session, I sponsored legislation that would allow cities and towns to determine the number of liquor licenses offered in their community. S.93 An Act Providing Municipal Control of Liquor Licenses would remove the arcane quota system imposed by previous state law that has remained unchanged since 1906.
While the outcome of this legislation is uncertain as session draws to a close, the idea of liquor license reform isn’t new on Beacon Hill and in cities and towns around the Commonwealth. Proposals by Governor Patrick and local leaders like Boston City Councillor Ayanna Pressley to end the limit on liquor licenses in communities across the state are generating big attention in the headlines. These measures are gaining traction through the widespread support of municipal and statewide lawmakers pushing to meet the demand for vibrant spaces that will increase the foot traffic in all areas of our communities, and not just main streets.
In order to unlock the Commonwealth’s potential for growth, we must change the way we think about developing our communities. More and more families, students and young and more well-established professionals want to live, work, and play in the same place. Making it less of a burden to obtain a liquor license positions the state for new business and is a win-win for the economy and the quality of life for Massachusetts residents.
Any restaurant business owner will tell you that that most restaurants fail within the first three years of opening even without putting an extra hurdle in the way of applying for liquor licenses. The restaurant industry serves as the backbone of the economy and we must legislate in ways that increase their ability to flourish and expand. When our cities and towns make it easier to own restaurants through common sense liquor license reform, innovation, brain power and jobs will undoubtedly follow.