WSJ: Remove anti-craft beer provision from budget

June 14, 2011
Wisconsin State Journal editorial board

It’s too complicated and hasty to stay in the state budget — especially when it has so little to do with spending state money.

The Legislature this week should remove from its state budget sweeping changes to how breweries may operate in Wisconsin.

And if this last-minute addition to the budget reaches Gov. Scott Walker’s desk, he should veto its provisions. That way, the public, Wisconsin’s beer industry and state lawmakers will have ample time to analyze and weigh the implications as a stand-alone bill.

Smaller craft brewers fear the changes are aimed at stunting their rapid growth and popularity in Wisconsin. They want to continue expanding and hiring people while giving consumers more choice.

Big brewer MillerCoors, along with tavern owners and beer distributors, favor the changes, which they insist are aimed at preventing big brewers such as Anheuser-Busch from buying up distributors to sell only its beer to retailers. Supporters also suggest the changes will simplify the permitting and licensing process.

The Legislature’s budget committee inserted the regulatory changes into its version of the state budget shortly before sending the $65 billion, two-year state spending plan to the full Legislature, which is scheduling floor debate and votes for this week.

That’s not enough time for proper consideration. Moreover, the proposal’s limited financial implications for the state don’t justify its inclusion in the massive state budget to begin with.

Wisconsin still clings to questionable rules and limits on its beer industry that date back to the Prohibition era. Updating and overhauling the system to encourage fair and free competition makes sense. The ultimate goal should be to side with what’s best for the public.

The proposed changes for Wisconsin’s brewers now in the state budget deserve greater scrutiny. They should be split out of the budget to stand on their own as a separate bill.