By Ben Jenkins/ Oklahoman January 31, 2010
Gov. Brad Henry recently described Oklahoma’s budget condition as a “crisis” and cautioned that “important programs throughout the state are suffering,” calling the situation “critical.” Not surprisingly, lawmakers are looking under every seat cushion at the Capitol for extra funds to keep programs running. However, at least one cushion has yet to be uncovered.
Despite America’s overwhelming repeal of Prohibition more than 75 years ago, Oklahoma remains one of the last holdouts by continuing to ban the sale of alcohol at private retail stores on Sundays — a ban that costs the state millions annually in overlooked tax revenues.
As Oklahomans debate various policy options to generate new revenue, legislators should consider adopting Sunday sales like most other states, including neighbors Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri and New Mexico. Texas, too, is poised to consider Sunday sales during its next legislative session.
Consumer demographics 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, Oklahoma’s spirits merchants have no choice but to turn customers away at the door. As a result, the state flushes millions in much-needed tax revenue down the drain while forcing private small-business owners to unwillingly inconvenience potential Sunday customers.
According to a recent economic analysis of statewide Sunday sales, Oklahoma stands to gain more than $3 million in added state tax revenues simply by repealing this outmoded sales ban. When every penny counts, that’s significant.
A national analysis of states that allowed Sunday sales between 2002 and 2005 (12 states) showed that in 2006, each state saw an average 5 percent to 7 percent increase in tax revenues. Importantly, these states saw zero negative social impact such as increased drunken driving or underage drinking. Colorado, the most recent state to enact Sunday sales, even saw its 2008 alcohol excise tax revenue collection increase by 6 percent despite the toll of the recession.
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, don’t make sense in today’s economy. That’s why state leaders across the country are striking them down for good.
Oklahoma should be no different. It’s time for state legislators to give serious consideration to repealing this Prohibition holdover that’s long outlived its relevance.
Jenkins is director of communications for the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States.