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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Montana Lawmakers Consider Selling More Liquor Licenses

Selling more liquor licenses would raise between $2.5 million and $4 millin for the state.
Selling more liquor licenses would raise between $2.5 million and $4 millin for the state.

Lawmakers are considering increasing the number of liquor licenses the state issues, and auctioning them off as a way to raise revenue.

Right now there are a finite number of liquor licenses available, issued in a quota system based on a local jurisdiction’s population. Great Falls Republican Steve Fitzpatrick’s Senate Bill 5 would allow one more liquor license per year in a handful of areas where two towns are growing together – like Belgrade and Bozeman.

And instead of awarding new licenses via the current lottery system, Fitzpatrick’s bill would auction them off, generating money for the state.

"The license is a piece of property," Fitzpatrick said. "It's no different than a car or a home. It's a piece of property and it has value, and when we're looking at it in these times I think it makes sense that people pay money for getting a piece of property from the state of Montana."

A couple of lawmakers expressed concern that auctioning liquor licenses would make it more difficult for would-be bar or restaurant owners to get into the business without big financial backing. An analysis of the bill says it would generate between $2.5 million and about $4 million a year for the state.

Eric Whitney is NPR's Mountain West/Great Plains Bureau Chief, and was the former news director for Montana Public Radio.
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