Agency seeks increased funding to deal with alcohol law changes
The Oklahoma Alcoholic Beverage Laws Enforcement Commission plans to ask for an additional $1 million increase in funding from the Oklahoma Legislature next year in anticipation of a glut of new licenses for beer and wine sales.
The ABLE Commission estimates anywhere from 4,500 to 5,000 stores in Oklahoma will apply for licenses to sell wine and full-strength beer when changes to Oklahoma's alcohol laws take effect in 2018, said Keith Burt, director of the agency.
Last year, ABLE received about $2.5 million in state appropriations. Like many state agencies, the ABLE Commission has been through several rounds of budget cuts over the past few years. The agency generates about $6.2 million in annual revenue for the state through its licensing activity, Burt said.
"We want to get ready in advance for the onslaught that will come in 2018," Burt said.
The funding would go to hire an additional six enforcement agents and three administrative staff.
The state will allow grocery and convenience stores to sell wine and full-strength beer for the first time beginning in October 2018. The changes are part of the alcohol law modernization measure State Question 792, which Oklahoma voters approved in November.
ABLE expects licensing activity to nearly double in anticipation of wine and full-strength beer sales in retail stores. The agency now oversees about 4,400 establishment licenses and an additional 57,000 employee licenses.
Oklahoma has 18 counties that are still considered dry because they never voted to approve liquor by the drink. Bars and restaurants in these counties can only sell 3.2 beer. Beer distributors are expected to stop distributing 3.2 beer to establishments in Oklahoma's remaining dry counties after SQ 792 goes into effect.
Hughes County in south-central Oklahoma could hold an election as early as this spring to approve liquor by the drink, and the ABLE Commission has also received inquiries from restaurant owners in Major County in northwestern Oklahoma about how to launch a liquor by the drink election effort there, Bert said at an ABLE Commission meeting Friday.
The Retail Liquor Association of Oklahoma still plans to file a lawsuit in the coming weeks to challenge the constitutionality of SQ 792, said Bryan Kerr, president of the liquor store owners' group.