Rep. Moe Maestas
By ROBERT NOTT
A sweeping liquor license reform bill is on its way to the Senate floor after the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 5-4 to move it forward Wednesday.
But the committee approved a number of amendments that changed some aspects of the bill.
Gone is a provision that would have given a $100,000 tax break to retailers who currently hold liquor licenses.
But a clause giving longtime liquor license owners who run restaurants and bars a $200,000 tax break — $50,000 per year for four years — remains.
Gone, too, is a deal that would have waived all future annual license renewal fees for those longtime liquor license owners.
But much of House Bill 255, which passed through the House of Representatives earlier in the session, remains intact. The bill still allows for home delivery of alcohol along with food orders.
The bill’s main sponsor, Rep. Moe Maestas, (D-Albuquerque), said the bill is meant to update the decades-old liquor license law that has increased liquor license fees to well over $500,000. It is also meant to encourage new restaurateurs to get into business at an affordable price.
HB 255 would allow restaurants to buy annual liquor licenses for somewhere between $2,500 and $10,000, depending on the size of the business.
Supporters said the legislation would reform a system in which people who paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for liquor licenses years ago hold a monopoly on the bar and restaurant business because new entrepreneurs can’t afford to buy in to the system.
Maestas and others behind the initiative say if the legislation becomes law, it could lead to the opening of more local, mom and pop-type restaurants that could profit from selling spirits and once again anchor Main Street New Mexico.
The bill has its share of opponents — mostly longtime liquor license owners who say it would devalue their licenses as more, less expensive licenses are purchased.
Over 710 restaurants in the state have a license to serve liquor.
A similar number buy annual licenses, at a cost of about $1,000, to serve beer and wine.
Sen. Linda Lopez, (D-Albuquerque), joined the three Republicans on the committee in opposing the bill.