New Jerseyans are sharply divided over Gov. Phil Murphy’s recent proposal to expand the number of liquor licenses available in the state, according to a new poll.
Survey results released Feb. 14 by Fairleigh Dickinson University show just 50% of the state supports the plan, while 38% oppose the measure and 12% are undecided.
The poll also found that, overall, respondents were evenly split between those who like to bring their own bottles (33%), those who prefer to order alcoholic beverages at restaurants (32%) and those without a preference either way (33%).
During his Jan. 10 State of the State address, Murphy pledged to reform the “antiquated and confusing” regulations, which were drafted after federal Prohibition ended. The governor, who named liquor license reform as a legislative priority for his second term, proposed the state “gradually relax” the cap until it’s eliminated completely and create a targeted tax credit for current license holders as a way to offset financial losses.
Dan Cassino, executive director of the FDU poll and a government & politics professor, said, “Liquor licenses may seem like too minor an issue for the Governor to include in the State of the State address. But this is a wickedly contentious measure.”
According to the poll’s results, Democrats are more supportive of the proposed liquor license reform than Republicans (54% versus 43%), despite the fact that Democrats are more likely to prefer bringing their own alcohol to restaurants than Republicans (36% versus 31%).
Liquor licenses may seem like too minor an issue for the Governor to include in the State of the State address. But this is a wickedly contentious measure.
— Dan Cassino, executive director, FDU poll
It also determined that New Jersey residents ages 65 and up are the most likely to say they prefer BYOB (42%) and least likely to say they like to buy from the restaurant (18%).
By contrast, 41% of the 30-and-under crowd likes to dine at a restaurant that has a liquor license and only 32% likes to BYOB, the poll found.
Additionally, those who prefer to purchase alcohol from the restaurant are also more likely to say that the state should expand the number of liquor licenses, with 66% supporting the measure, compared with 44% of BYOBers, according to the survey.
The findings also showed “substantial regional variation in attitudes” toward liquor license expansion, with more than half of adults in North Jersey in support of it. In coastal counties, support was 46% and in South Jersey, support dropped to 39%.
Commenting on the results, Cassino said, “What’s especially tricky about this is that it isn’t a statewide problem. In some places, they’re no more expensive than they are anywhere else; in others, it’s a million dollars. Any change is necessarily going to hurt some people more than others.”
“People who are losing something are always going to fight harder than people who are looking to get something,” he added. “If I had spent a million bucks on a license, I wouldn’t let the state devalue it without a fight.”
Since 1947, New Jersey has restricted the number of licenses a municipality can grant based on population. Under the law, which was most recently amended in the late 1960s, towns can issue one consumption license for every 3,000 residents and one retail license per 7,500 residents. As a result, the ability to sell alcohol is a highly coveted right and business owners often shell out as much as $1 million to secure one of the limited number of available licenses on the private market.
Over the years, there have been attempts to overhaul the restrictions, which are considered among the most restrictive in the country. Advocates for change have said the regulations impede economic development of communities, particularly downtowns and Main Streets, and have called on lawmakers to lower the cost of licenses to allow for more restaurants to serve alcohol while also being mindful of any perceived loss of value to businesses that hold liquor licenses.
Conducted between Feb. 1 and Feb. 6, the FDU poll surveyed 808 New Jersey adults and has a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.