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National view: Sunday liquor sale ban hurts Minnesota

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National view: Sunday liquor sale ban hurts Minnesota
Duluth Minnesota 424 W. First St. 55802

Imagine for a moment the Minnesota Legislature passed a ban on buying floral arrangements on Sundays, the second-busiest shopping day of the week, without rationale. Confused consumers, frustrated florists and their employees probably would mobilize and push for repeal. Shoppers in need of last-minute bouquets for a wedding, party or date would hit the roads to Iowa, the Dakotas, Wisconsin or perhaps even Canada. Florists surely would open up new shops in border towns to meet demand.


This bizarre hypothetical scenario is not much different from the reality of the state’s liquor policy, where a Prohibition-era “blue law” banning the retail sales of spirits on Sundays remains the law of the land — at a steep cost to Minnesota taxpayers and consumers.

There is no justifiable policy purpose for this arrangement today other than restricting consumer choice and fattening the coffers of neighboring states. Perhaps that is why 38 states now permit Sunday retail liquor sales, including 16 that have repealed such bans since 2002.

Yet, despite legislation being introduced year after year to repeal Minnesota’s Sunday ban, special interests thus far have thwarted common sense.

It’s no secret scores of Minnesotans travel out of state each Sunday to purchase liquor, creating both an inconvenience to Minnesota taxpayers and a boon for out-of-state stores. Because of this trend, lawmakers have a rare opportunity to increase tax revenue without raising tax rates by eliminating the Sunday sales ban.

A recent Distilled Spirits Council study found that Minnesota could bring in an estimated $10.8 million to $15.1 million annually if this Prohibition holdover was lifted. Furthermore, the increased economic activity in Minnesota stores probably would translate into more jobs in the retail industry.

Oddly enough, many of Minnesota’s smaller liquor stores historically have supported the current ban, arguing that adding an extra day to their workweek wouldn’t improve their bottom line. Instead, they contend, retail activity in their stores would be spread out over seven days rather than six.

These claims fly in the face of evidence from other states. In a 2004 Distilled Spirits Council study, Donald Boudreaux analyzed the results of recently legalized Sunday sales in Pennsylvania, New York, Oregon and Delaware. He discovered that stores open on Sunday saw increased sales from 12.4 percent to 24.3 percent. Additionally, total state sales — including stores that did not open on Sunday — also were up, from 7.1 percent to 11.1 percent. A similar increase in sales (and as a result, tax revenue) certainly could benefit Minnesota.

Of course, liquor stores, like all other businesses, still could remain closed on Sundays if the law was repealed. But it should be up to the owners — not the government — to determine their operating hours based on knowledge of their customers or their own priorities.

Furthermore, if Minnesotans truly are pleased with the status quo and have been conditioned to buy their spirits between Mondays and Saturdays, then why are new liquor stores popping up in border towns in neighboring states? By forcing shoppers to cross state lines on Sundays, lawmakers are depriving the state and its residents of significant gains.

Sunday spirits sales would mean more robust economic activity and with it more retail jobs. As a bonus, government finances could improve while avoiding boosts in Minnesota’s already heavy tax burdens. In fact, measures like these when combined with prudent spending cuts could help finance badly needed reductions in income and other taxes.

Bars and restaurants already can serve on Sundays. Why not extend the right to stores? Lawmakers interested in increasing convenience for shoppers and stopping the revenue loss to adjacent jurisdictions should repeal archaic blue-law restrictions and bring Minnesota into the 21st century.

Lee Schalk of Alexandria, Va., is state affairs manager for the National Taxpayers Union, which has more than 7,000 members in Minnesota. He wrote this for the News Tribune.