JENKINS: Ga. blue law leaves money on the table

In his first State of the State address, Gov. Nathan Deal last week said that Georgians need to meet today’s budgetary challenges with a “chief focus on improving Georgia’s economic competitiveness.” To that end, he said, Georgians must “ensure that Georgia has all of the ingredients necessary to attract, support and grow business.”

Perhaps this year those ingredients will be rum, Coke and a twist of lime.

Despite America’s overwhelming repeal of Prohibition more than 75 years ago, Georgia remains one of the last holdouts continuing to block the sale of alcohol at private retail stores on Sunday — a ban that costs the state millions annually in lost tax revenues.

Though Sunday sales have been rigorously debated for several years now, this year there is hope for the majority of Georgians who support repealing the old blue law. Deal has said more than once the archaic ban isn’t an issue for him and that he’d sign legislation if it comes to his desk. Many Georgians would raise a toast to that.

So, as policymakers debate various options to generate new revenue without raising taxes, it seems the time has come for legislators to seriously consider adopting Sunday sales in 2011 like the vast majority of other states have done already.

Consumer demographics clearly have changed since 1933. Sunday has become the second-busiest retail shopping day of the week. As consumers spend Sundays at malls, shopping for groceries and eating and drinking at restaurants, Georgia’s spirits merchants have no choice but to turn customers away at the door. As a result, the state pours millions in much-needed tax revenue down the drain while forcing small business owners to unwittingly inconvenience potential Sunday customers.

According to a recent economic analysis of statewide Sunday sales for distilled spirits alone, Georgia stands to generate $3.4 million to $4.8 million in additional state tax revenues per year simply by repealing this outmoded ban. Adding in beer and wine sales on Sunday and the state stands to generate even more. In a difficult economy where every penny counts, that’s a lot to leave on the table.

The most recent states that have allowed Sunday sales have seen expected increases in revenue — and without the world coming to an end. For example, states that began allowing Sunday sales between 2002 and 2008 showed an average 5 to 7 percent increase in tax revenue. Importantly, these states saw zero negative social impact such as increased drunk driving or underage drinking after adopting Sunday sales.

Nationwide, states have seen the positive effect of Sunday sales on consumers, small business owners and the state treasury. Anti-competitive sales bans, regardless of the industry, do not make sense in today’s economy. That’s why state leaders across the country are striking them down for good.

Georgia should be no different. It’s time for legislators to repeal this Prohibition holdover that has long outlived its relevance.

Ben Jenkins is vice president of the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States in Washington.