Wine in Grocery Stores, Still on the Table in New York

A proposal to allow New York State supermarkets sell wine might re-emerge this year if Governor David A. Patterson can break the state’s budgetary stalemate. Battles over how to pay for New York’s ever-expanding welfare and regulatory states means that lawmakers have been unable to come to an agreement on the budget.

Patterson argues that allowing supermarkets to sell wine would increase much-needed government revenue. Current liquor store owners–who apparently fear competition–have been fighting the proposal while wineries and others support it. Surely, lawmakers should cut spending to resolve their mess, but giving consumers greater freedom is a great idea–budgetary mess or not.

The issue appeared to be dying on the vine, along with the governor’s budget. But Patterson says he will call an emergency session of the legislature to get the budget done–even though lawmakers might prefer to be home campaigning as Election Day approaches. Patterson has such authority under the state’s constitution and has tried to use it in the past without much success. Maybe impending elections will rouse lawmakers to action.

When New York lawmakers finally do allow wine in supermarkets, they should allow consumers to buy spirits there as well–as Governor Robert F. McDonnell has proposed for Virginia. Despite claims to the contrary, there is no evidence that such access would increase abuse or other problems, as reported in a Virginia Public Policy Institute study on the topic. There is no good reason to deprive consumers of access to these products as well.

Silly bans against selling wine or spirits at the supermarket are not really designed to address alcohol abuse, underage drinking, or the like. They exist to serve special interests, be they government agencies or liquor stores those agencies have essentially granted monopolies. An ad on this topic by New Yorkers for Economic Growth and Open Markets says it all.