This week, the Kansas Legislature will hold hearings concerning Uncork Kansas proposed legislation to relax liquor laws in Kansas. Uncork Kansas, which comprises Wal-Mart, Hy-Vee, Kroger/Dillons, QuikTrip and other national retailers wants to frame the discussion as a debate on free market principles.
By STEVEN F. FAUST
Special to The Star
Unfortunately, its not that simple.
I feel the issues are 60-plus years of previous legislative commitment to Kansas small business owners and good public policy.
All Kansas liquor retailers gave significant consideration and weight to existing Kansas laws that limit the sale of liquor, wine and strong beer to retail liquor stores.
Liquor retailers acted in reliance on those laws when we made the life-changing decision to invest our savings and pledge our personal assets to lenders and landlords.
We made decisions about store location, size, layout and product mix based on those laws. In the few states that operate under Uncork Kansas proposed legislation, more than 70 percent of alcohol sales take place in corporate chains.
Grocery and convenience stores own economic study estimated that more than 50 percent of current retailers would close if the laws change. Currently, all profits generated from the sale of adult beverages are reinvested locally.
Kansas liquor retailers employ more than 3,500 people statewide, use local bankers, accountants, lawyers, service, and supply companies and live and pay taxes in their community. Economic studies show that dollars spent locally multiply by a factor of five.
These profits account for more than $700 million in economic activity in Kansas. Uncork Kansas members are based in Arkansas, Iowa, Ohio and Oklahoma and would divert these profits back to their corporate offices to be distributed to their shareholders with no resulting economic benefit to Kansas.
In Kansas today, we have 761 retailers servicing 2,885,000 residents, which equates to one retail liquor store per 3,700 people.
The national average is one retailer per 3,000 residents.
Uncork Kansas legislation would increase the number of outlets to more than 3,000, creating a ratio of one per 965 residents.
If Kansas citizens are underserviced when it pertains to off-premise liquor consumption, the current system is well equipped to meet their needs.
I would suggest that Kansans historic conservative values concerning alcohol still apply today.
A recent survey conducted for Keep Kansans in Business by the national polling firm, Public Opinion Strategies in Alexandria, Va., found that 66 percent of Kansans do not favor a change in liquor laws, 77 percent believe that minors should not be allowed to handle the sale of alcoholic products and 70 percent think these changes would be bad for the Kansas economy.
The Kansas Division of the Budget concluded in its February fiscal note that the overall sales of alcohol are not expected to increase because of Uncork Kansas proposed legislation.
What Uncork Kansas doesnt address is the cost to the state to regulate and enforce liquor regulations in more than 2,000 additional locations.
Recently, the Kansas Department of Revenue issued a report estimating that this legislation would cost the state an additional $1.9 million annually in increased enforcement and regulation expenses.
Kansas has developed a system for the legal purchase of a regulated product that has served the state well for more than 60 years.
The changes proposed by Uncork Kansas only serve the interests of the worlds largest retailers at the expense of Kansas small businesses and their employees.
They do not reflect the opinions or values of most Kansas residents.
Steven F. Faust of Overland Park owns MDL Wine & Spirits at 8850 W. 95th St. in Overland Park.