By Matt Murphy
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE -- Seventeen mayors and city leaders, including Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, are urging lawmakers to reconsider Gov. Deval Patrick's proposal to lift the local cap on liquor licenses, which the urban leaders said are "often a critical element" of making the economics of owning a restaurant work.
"This change would attract new businesses to our communities and increase predictability for those who are investing," the mayors wrote in a letter to House and Senate lawmakers Wednesday morning, which was obtained by the News Service.
The letter was signed by Walsh, who is less than a year removed from the Legislature, and Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone and Chelsea City Manager Jay Ash. It was also endorsed by the other 10 members of the Metropolitan Mayors Coalition as well as Attleboro Mayor Kevin Dumas, Fall River Mayor William Flanagan, New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell, and Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll.
Patrick in April proposed the elimination of the cap on liquor licenses as part of an economic development package (H 4045), but House Speaker Robert DeLeo did not include the provision in his bill, which has cleared the House. State senators are working on their own economic development proposal, but have not unveiled it yet.
The mayors wrote that there may be "valid reasons" for wanting to control the number of liquor licenses in a given municipality, but argued that the governor's plan "embraced the notion that local decision-makers are best equipped to make responsible decisions about liquor licenses in their community.
The mayors said restaurants are important business anchors that can help revitalize neighborhoods, but in cities where the cap has been reached the process for obtaining a liquor license requires the "unpredictable, time-consuming petitioning" of the Legislature.
House Economic Development Committee co-Chair Rep. Joseph Wagner has said the required legislative approval is an "added level of check and balance" and that overall he believes it is "healthier" to preserve the status quo.
Local liquor license bills, as well as legislation granting special sick leave benefits to state employees, occupy a great deal of time and energy in the Legislature, where advancement of licensing and benefits bills is common.
The House calendar for Wednesday includes a new bill filed by Rep. Ed Coppinger in late May seeking eight additional licenses in the city of Boston. Bills authorizing a handful or more alcohol licenses are frequently pushed by local officials eager to help local residents grow businesses or develop retail and commercial properties.
There are only 36 days remaining for formal legislative sessions this year, so the time remaining for action on controversial bills, like the liquor licensing change, is winding down amid a cluttered legislative docket.