Night life in Ann Arbor may get a little more interesting in the near future. That’s because the Michigan House of Representatives is considering legislation to allow bars in the state to extend their closing times from 2 a.m. to 4 a.m. Such legislation will stimulate business in local bars while allowing the government to collect more revenue in taxes due to the increased hours. Helping businesses while closing budget gaps is a smart move for the state, and legislators should propose, pass and implement a policy to keep bars open later.
Last week, Rep. Richard Hammel (D–Mt. Morris Twp) introduced a bill that would allow bars in the state to stay open until 4 a.m., extending closing time by two hours. The law would also permit liquor stores to begin selling alcohol as early as 7:30 a.m. on Sundays instead of the current time of noon. According to the current legislation, bars that want to take advantage of the extended hours would have to pay a $1,500 fee, and local governments would have the power to forbid businesses within their jurisdiction from participating.
The bill is great news for many struggling Michigan businesses. Because they would be allowed to stay open later, the bars would generate more sales and help offset their economic problems with more revenue. While the owners will have to pay a $1,500 fee, this isn’t overly burdensome, and many businesses will quickly be able to make up the cost. And businesses that don’t want to add the hours don’t have to. But those who do will be able to employ people for later shifts, creating more work and jobs. With Michigan’s debilitating 15.3-percent unemployment rate, even small increases to the job market can help.
And keeping bars open later will also help the state government make some money. This is coming just a few weeks after the state’s bruising budget debate, where funding for education was slashed across the board because of deficient revenue sources. The government needs to find a way to reverse as many of these cuts as possible, and making more money off taxes from bars that stay open later is one way of doing that. The state will also profit from the $1,500 fee.
One of the concerns raised about this bill is that it will encourage late-night drinking and decrease safety. But college students who want to stay out late drinking will do so in any case. The current 2 a.m. restriction does not mean that people aren’t drinking after 2 a.m., only that they’re doing it outside of a bar. The state might as well see if businesses and state revenue sources can profit from these drinkers. Keeping the bars open offers these students a place to drink that is supervised, regulated and relatively safe. For this reason, local governments should not be able to opt out of the policy.
The state legislature should pass this bill and give businesses a break while raising funds for the state budget. But local governments shouldn’t be given the power to end the party early.