Matt Murphy/State House News Service
|Gov. Deval Patrick|
Gov. Deval Patrick has proposed to eliminate the cap on liquor licenses in communities around the state, and local leaders couldn’t be drunker with delight.
Haverhill Mayor James Fiorentini said his border city faces competition from New Hampshire retailers, and lifting the limits on licenses for liquor stores will be a “great help.”
“We have to compete with those damn conservative Republican socialist liquor stores up in New Hampshire,” Fiorentini said during a meeting of the Local Government Advisory Commission. “It always struck me as ironic that a conservative Republican state had state-run liquor stores.”
The mayors, selectmen, school committee members and other local officials met with members of the Patrick administration on Tuesday to discuss recent developments with the budget, a supplemental spending bill and veterans’ issues.
Eric Nakajima, assistant secretary for innovation policy at the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, also gave a rundown of the governor’s recently filed economic development bill that includes proposals for tax incentives for workforce training and housing, and innovation initiatives, and the proposal to turn over full control of the liquor licensing process to local authorities.
Nakajima said lifting the cap on liquor licenses will eliminate a “hurdle” for businesses seeking access to liquor licenses that are often part of larger economic development projects.
“That giant sigh of relief you probably heard was Mayor Joe Curtatone,” joked Gardner Mayor Mark Hawke, referring to the Somerville mayor who was not in attendance.
Curtatone appeared with then-Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll at a legislative hearing in August to testify in favor of legislation to eliminate the cap, arguing that restaurant owners find it difficult to locate in Somerville because of a lack of available licenses.
Hawke recalled how the Gardner Ale House, which touts itself as the only full-menu brewpub in both North Central Massachusetts and Worcester County, had to delay its opening by a year as it tried to get special legislation for a liquor license.
Approving additional liquor licenses for cities and towns has become a routine function of the House and Senate, usually occurring during lightly attended informal sessions but only after the bills have passed through committee and been vetted by lawyers.
As the local officials went around the room Tuesday to discuss the economic development bill, the conversation kept steering back to liquor licenses and the number of cities and towns who have bumped up against the cap.
With the support of Mayor Martin Walsh, Rep. Russell Holmes and Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley have been pushing to lift the cap on liquor licenses in Boston and turn full control over the licensing process to the city's Licensing Board as a method for revitalizing certain neighborhoods.
Waltham Mayor Jeannette McCarthy said her city has a lot of economic growth occurring along the I-95 corridor and businesses are constantly asking for liquor licenses.
“We think this is going to bring true economic development,” she said.
Fiorentini said that for some unknown historical anomaly his city does not have a cap on the number of liquor licenses it can award to restaurants, and he called that freedom “a tremendous boon for us going out, trying to steal a few restaurants from Gardner or Amesbury or wherever.”
The governor’s plan would also create a “transformative development” fund within MassDevelopment to make equity investments and provide funding for collaborative workspaces in so-called Gateway Cities, and expand the Housing Development Incentive Program (HDIP) to promote market-rate housing in those former industrial centers.
Hawke, whose city of Gardner does not meet the definition of a Gateway City, called the transformative development fund a “great idea” that could work in any city, and said the need for market rate housing is also critical in non-Gateway Cities.
“It’s absolutely needed, but I don’t know that it needs to be targeted,” he said.