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Sunday liquor sales issue to resurface

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POSTED: January 1, 2009 5:00 a.m.
ATLANTA - Georgia's slumping economy could breathe new life into an effort to permit alcohol sales on Sunday in the state, supporters said.

State Sen. Seth Harp said he will reintroduce the Sunday sales measure in the legislative session set to begin Jan. 12.

"I can think of millions of reasons why it would be attractive this year," the Republican from Midland said, referring to the millions of dollars in additional tax revenues supporters estimate Sunday sales would yield in Georgia.

That argument could prove persuasive in a year where the state is grappling with a budget deficit that could top $2 billion. The state excise tax on alcoholic beverages is one of the few taxes where revenues have continued to climb even as the economy has worsened. For the fiscal year that began July 1, the alcohol excise tax that stores pay to wholesalers rose by 1.8 percent even as most other revenue sources plummeted.

The Sunday sales measure has failed to win approval for the past two years in the Georgia Legislature. Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, a teetotaler and Christian conservative, has said he opposes allowing stores to sell alcohol on the Sabbath.

Grocery and convenience stores have been pushing for the change, saying their customers are clamoring for it.

Georgia is one of only three states that that ban stores from selling any kind of alcohol on Sundays. The other two are Connecticut and Indiana.

The bill would give local governments the option on whether to permit Sunday alcohol sales. Voters in those areas would then have to approve the change at the ballot box.

Opponents promised a vigorous fight against the proposal again this year.

Jim Beck, executive director of the Georgia Christian Coalition, said he was unmoved by the fiscal argument.

"Would the senator be willing to legalize prostitution and tax that, too?" Beck asked. "I think there are greater issues at stake here than just a quick buck."

There was no precise figure on how much additional sales tax revenue Sunday sales would bring in, because it would depend on which communities opt in.

But a spokesman for the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States said that allowing liquor sales statewide would bring up to $4.8 million in increased taxes.

An official with Publix, one of Georgia's largest supermarket chains, said the sale of beer and wine at grocery stores on Sunday would result in $1.4 million in extra excise taxes and at least $3.3 million in new sales tax revenue.


 

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