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Mayors seek more control over liquor licenses

BOSTON — Boston Mayor Martin Walsh and 16 other eastern Massachusetts mayors and city managers are asking state lawmakers to give cities and towns more control over liquor licenses.

In a letter sent Wednesday to members of the Legislature, the mayors say restaurants and bars are critical to neighborhood revitalization, and lifting caps on liquor licenses would make it easier for establishments to do business.

The state caps the number of licenses a city or town can grant under a formula based partly on population. Any requests for liquor licenses above the cap must be brought before the Legislature for approval.

The mayors are asking lawmakers to support a bill filed by Gov. Deval Patrick that would lift the caps, allowing cities and towns to determine the number of licenses that are granted.

“Under current law ... restaurateurs, and the broader economic development which they unlock, are subject to the unpredictable, time-consuming process of petitioning the Legislature for a new license,” the mayors wrote. “The governor’s proposal embraces the notion that local decision-makers are best equipped to make responsible decisions about liquor licenses in their communities.”

Patrick included the proposal in an economic development package, but House Speaker Robert DeLeo declined to include the liquor license overhaul in the House version of the economic development bill.

Not everyone likes Patrick’s plan. Among the skeptics are some current liquor license holders, who argue that a flood of additional licenses could threaten their businesses.

Massachusetts Restaurant Association President Bob Luz has said that while restaurants are generally supportive of increasing license availability and expediting the process, he remains concerned about the effect that would have on existing owners “who may have paid a far steeper price due to current market restrictions.”

Patrick has said removing the cap on liquor licenses is part of what he sees as a wider effort to spur development and add jobs.

“If we are really serious about growing opportunity and accomplishing that by growing the economy, then we’ve just got to make it simpler to make their investment decisions and get on with it,” he said last month.

Last year alone, lawmakers passed at least 18 separate bills designed to allow communities from Fairhaven to Fitchburg to grant an additional liquor license to a specific business.

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