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A powerful state lawmaker wants to restore $500,000 that was cut from the operating budget of the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (DABC).
"We need to get that money back so you can run this organization," Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, told members of the DABC liquor commission Tuesday. "It needs to be taken care of sooner than later."
Gov. Gary Herbert plans to call lawmakers into a special session in the coming weeks to vote on a new Medicaid expansion plan. Stevenson would like to see liquor funding added to the agenda.
During its 2015 session, the Legislature slashed the department's operating budget by $500,000 for the current fiscal year, which started July 1. Since then, the DABC has taken numerous measures to make ends meet. Last week, it laid off a secretary and an auditor in its administrative office.
It also has left vacant positions unfilled, has assigned managers to oversee two or three liquor stores and offered an $8,000 early retirement bonus to qualified employees.
The cuts come at a time when the department is making record profits for the state. The situation is troubling for Stevenson, who has been appointed by his legislative peers to oversee all future liquor legislation.
"This is a business, and whenever you increases the cases that are being handled, there are increased costs," he said. "You can't save yourself into prosperity."
Stevenson told the board that he believes the DABC has a "good director" in Sal Petilos as well as "a great staff that is headed in the right direction."
If the public is upset about liquor store operations or low employee pay and morale, "they need to be pointing at the Legislature," he said.
Commission Chairman John T. Nielsen said he appreciated the vote of confidence. "It's not easy to operate under a decreased budget and do what is required of you by state statute," he said.
Errors in Utah liquor profits
Utah made a lot of money on booze last year just not as much as the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (DABC) originally reported.
The DABC overcalculated about $6 million in "cost of goods" during the previous fiscal year that ended July 1, spokeswoman Vickie Ashby said Tuesday.
The department and the state finance system still are trying to figure out where the discrepancy occurred. Changes also were made this year in the way the DABC reported information to the state finance office, she said.
In July, the DABC reported that it had made nearly $396 million in retail sales from July 1, 2014, through June 30, 2015. That was an increase of nearly 8 percent from the previous year.
Most of the liquor profits in Utah go into the general operating fund, while sales-tax revenues go toward the school-lunch and public-safety programs.