Thursday, May 28, 2009

Booze: Say Yes to Michigan. Even Our Government is in Step. Mostly.

Being Michiganders, our adult beverage industry is a teeming, blessed money maker. To lose money on drinking habits in the Great Lakes state is to not try, or to be hampered by ill-advised regulation; our state is one of 18 to have its booze sector managed by the government. We’d bet that such management has closed a number of fine establishments, as well as keeping prices on the high side.
Looking around at the site of the Michigan Liquor Control Commission, we noted a number of things. First of all, like so many state boards, the commission meets monthly virtually without any coverage by a media outlet. In case you are interested, we’ve posted the schedule below. Please note the additional change of venue for the June meeting.
In poring over the commission’s FY 2008 report, we see that this 144-person unit must be one of the few offices in our state government to oversee an industry making money. Even the gross sales increase of 3.4% is enough to make us think positively. Better yet, the report states that “Since the 1999 fiscal year, there has been a 45.1% increase in dollar sales from $638.0m in FY 1999 to $925.5m in FY 2008.”
In that same period, the state’s jobless rate has more than doubled, from 3.8 to 8.4. We aren’t about to let a job loss keep us from a drink or two.
We can also note here that a large portion of the MLCC was privatized in 1996-97, taking the staff from 532 to 152. This was former Gov. John Engler’s thing, privatize at any cost. Overall, he failed in his attempt to do it with liquor in the 90s.
The commission has not had a thorough performance or financial audit since 2001, and we see that it was a very cursory look compared to a 1998-99 financial audit of the commission in which the Michigan Office of the Auditor General discovered that some commissioners were using state phones, cell and office, for their own expensive personal calls, in particular.
“In some instances, Commissioners did not identify if telephone calls were for MLCC business or personal (III). However, our review of these telephone calls disclosed telephone calls that appeared personal. For example, former Commissioner Arthurhultz did not identify telephone calls made to a relative, individuals in foreign countries, an out-of-State real estate agent, and art importers.”
Seems the former state senator was chalking up hundreds of dollars in personal business phone bills to taxpayers. We can only hope that such abuse has been stemmed, although we are not optimistic.
The state has been wise enough to keep a lid on booze taxes, although we chuckle at the graphic in the report – which we have also posted below – that notes that of the retail license fee revenue earned in FY 2008, 55% went to local governments, 41.5% to licensing and enforcement and, a nice token of 3.5% to “alcoholism programs.”
The commission has been on the wrong side of a few issues, particularly the mail order wine sales, which was a political matter that only a state so fearful of competition like Michigan, could embrace. Let’s also make sure that voters know that gubernatorial hopeful Mike Cox was a leader in the effort to prohibit those wine imports, and even advocated for an overall ban on mail order wine.
Overall, we like the commission, one of the few government agencies that actually delivers a product that taxpayers enjoy. Even the salaries are not out of control – MLCC chief Nida Samona makes $106, 037 and a number of others we check through the Lansing State Journal’s salary database came back under $100,000.
Yes, there is a huge money grab in there somewhere, and special interests abound. What we’d like to see is more coverage of this important body. But the depleted journalism ranks do not allow such, so the MLCC will continue to meet without critique. We don’t see minutes of the meetings posted, and can only assume that the MLCC likes things they way they are, that is, running under the radar.

Bar sign image by Flickr user loungelistener, CC 2.0

Michigan Liquor Control Commission Public Meetings

MLCC Meeting_Change_6.18.09_280286_7

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