Half of all Utahns favor the state government getting out of the liquor retail business, a new UtahPolicy poll finds.
Don’t expect that to happen any time soon, however.
Liquor law changes in Utah historically must get the blessing of leaders of the Mormon Church, and alcohol control has been a hallmark of the church’s liquor policy for years in its home state.
In a new UPD poll, Dan Jones & Associates finds that 49 percent of Utahns favor privatizing liquor sales in the state.
Currently, 3.2 percent alcohol beer is sold in private grocery stores, but has a special state tax placed upon it.
All alcohol greater than 3.2 percent is sold in state liquor stores, including heavy beers, wine and hard liquor, like whiskey.
Licensed restaurants and bars, of course, sell individual glasses or bottles of alcohol.
You can see from this Utah Taxpayers Association “Fast Tax” pamphlet that in fiscal year 2014-2015 (the latest numbers) that state government took in $8.2 million in the beer tax and $95.4 million in profit from its state liquor stores.
Ten percent of liquor sales, or $41 million, automatically goes into public education, by law.
The Department of Alcohol Beverage Control has been under fire for several years for poor management, underpaying its store sales staff and other issues.
That has led some lawmakers to argue the state should just get out of the alcohol business, and let private entities sell liquor under state licensing and oversight – with the state taxing the sales in some manner.
49 percent favor privatization of liquor sales.
37 percent oppose.
And 13 percent don’t know.
Faithful Mormons can’t smoke tobacco or drink alcohol.
And Utah state government has controlled liquor sales for generations here – with liquor by the drink outside of private clubs only being legalized by the Legislature in recent years.
The Legislature is 80 percent faithful Mormons and heavily Republican, as has been all recent governors since 1984.
Jones finds that Utah Republicans oppose privatizing liquor, 50-34 percent.
Democrats favor privatization, 75-19 percent.
And political independents favor it, 61-28 percent.
In Jones’ latest survey, those who self-identified as “very active” Mormons are against privatizing liquor sales, 47-33 percent, with 19 percent undecided.
It’s likely that that 19 percent would switch to “oppose” if their church leaders came out against privatizing liquor.
Utah’s liquor laws have been modernized over the last two decades – no longer do restaurant patrons have to personally buy a mini-bottle of liquor individually from their meal tab and mix their drinks at their tables themselves, for example.
In any case, there are a few other states, even counties within a state, where liquor laws are more restrictive than in Utah today.
Finally, Jones finds a difference of opinion on this subject between men and women, perhaps because more men may drink or be responsible for providing liquor.
Fifty-five percent of men want the state to get out of the retail liquor business – privatize the whole process.
While only 45 percent of women want to privatize liquor sales.
Jones polled 605 Utahns from Sept. 1-9. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.98 percent.