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Liquor license legislation fell from state budget, may return

A legislative bid to solve a problem facing growing municipalities and resort communities by allowing them to grant more than their allotment of liquor licenses was a casualty of the state budget process and was not included in the bill signed Fr...

A legislative bid to solve a problem facing growing municipalities and resort communities by allowing them to grant more than their allotment of liquor licenses was a casualty of the state budget process and was not included in the bill signed Friday by Gov. Jim Doyle.

But legislators who support the measure say they will introduce separate legislation soon to exempt full-service restaurants from local liquor license limits.

Rep. Mark Gottlieb, R-Port Washington, who maneuvered the provision into the initial Assembly version of the budget bill, said supporters view the exemption as an economic development tool that many communities need to accommodate commercial growth. For example, Pabst Farms in Oconomowoc is attempting to lure a new developer for a large upscale shopping mall that could require as many as a dozen liquor licenses, but the city has no more to grant.

"We have to not be standing in the way of communities getting high-quality development," Gottlieb said. "This is pro-economic development, pro-tourism, and it just makes sense."

As it did during the budget process, the Tavern League of Wisconsin will oppose the exemption to liquor license limits, said Peter Madland, executive director of the organization.

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"Historically, we've always been opposed to anything that creates more licenses," he said. "Obviously, the more licenses there are, the more it decreases the value of existing licenses."

State law regulates the number of Class B combination liquor licenses a community can issue. With some exceptions, the liquor license quota law restricts the number of such licenses to one per every 500 residents. Class B combination licenses allow establishments to serve liquor, beer and wine, and commonly are granted to full-service restaurants as well as taverns.

Dan Thompson, executive director of the League of Wisconsin Municipalities, said the liquor license quota system is a problem for many communities in the state. Some, like Oconomowoc, are attracting new commercial developments far faster than their populations are increasing, he said. Other communities, including Lake Geneva and other resort areas, require a greater number of bars and restaurants to serve vacationers than the number of liquor licenses allowed based on the number of year-round residents.

"In areas with growth where things are happening, in resort communities like the Dells and Door County; these are the areas where they'd like to have a new restaurant but liquor licenses are in short supply," Thompson said.

-- Copyright © 2007, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel / Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

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