There is a growing recognition that the lack of liquor licenses available to restaurants is hindering business growth in Utah and something needs to be done, Gov. Gary Herbert said Thursday.
This month, there is only one full-service restaurant license available and a number of applicants vying for the permit. National restaurant chains have been saying for more than a year that the lack of licenses is keeping them from opening eateries in Utah.
"I think there is a growing awareness that we need to make sure our liquor licenses line up with the demands, particularly restaurants and business establishments that want to come and relocate here in Utah," Herbert said during his monthly KUED news conference.
That doesn’t mean the state has to simply issue more licenses. There are ways that resorts, which have multiple licenses, could be given a single license, freeing up a handful of others.
"I think there is a growing concern and understanding that we are somehow out of sync. There are a couple ways to address that," he said. "But I think that it’s something that should be addressed and will be addressed."
But Herbert said he isn’t sure the issue is of a "sky-is-falling urgency" that would require a special legislative session, although he said it could be added to the agenda if there is a session convened to deal with other issues.
Lawmakers have been discussing whether to call a special session to deal with a $25 million shortfall in education funding, the result of a math error projecting the education budget needs for the coming year. He said that issue is up to legislators, at this point.
Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, has said that he will propose changes to Utah’s quota-based limits on liquor permits sometime next month.
In Utah, the current quota only allows one full-service restaurant license for every 4,295 residents. In California, it is one license per 2,000 people; in Idaho, it is one per 1,500 people; and in Washington, it is one license per 1,200 residents.
In other issues addressed by the governor:
• Herbert said his office is still reviewing how Utah Department of Transportation executive director John Njord handled the firing and rehiring of employee Denice Graham. Njord terminated Graham for allegedly leaking information relating to the $1.1 billion Interstate-15 reconstruction through Utah County, but she appealed the firing and was ordered to be reinstated. There were disagreements of her assignment, back pay and attorneys fees and Njord at one point asked her to sign a letter urging Democrats not to discuss the incident as a condition of receiving lost wages. Ultimately, Graham was given back pay and attorneys fees and reassigned to the Department of Human Resource Management. "I will say this — that John Njord is great at building roads," Herbert said. "He’s not really good at politics."
• The governor said that he believes the U.S. Supreme Court will rule that the new federal mandate that all Americans acquire health insurance will be ruled unconstitutional and the federal health reform thrown out. If it is not, he said, Utah will obey the law.
• Herbert praised Sen. Orrin Hatch, but stopped short of endorsing the senator in his re-election battle with challenger Dan Liljenquist.
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