Murphy announces coalition of ‘Mayors for Liquor License Reform’

The state’s liquor license laws will be reformed and modernized to be more affordable, equitable and accessible, thanks to a new coalition of mayors from across New Jersey.

Speaking at the New Jersey Conference of Mayors‘ 58th Annual Spring Conference on Thursday in Atlantic City, Gov. Phil Murphy announced 90 charter members who represent urban, suburban and rural towns are tasked with reforming the current liquor license laws.

Murphy first announced his goal of reforming New Jersey’s liquor license laws during his State of the State address in January, citing the exorbitant costs — sometime as high as seven figures — and the lack of availability created by outdated population caps, all of which hinder small, diverse and mom-and-pop establishments from flourishing.

The coalition — “Mayors for Liquor License Reform” — is seeking to bring significant local economic benefits to towns and counties across the state through the proposed reforms.

“These mayors come from counties across the state. They represent more than 1 million residents of historic small towns, growing townships and midsized cities,” Murphy said. “But, most important, they represent hundreds of small restaurants whose owners are being left out — and whose investments in their establishments are being left at-risk — because they do not have access to the liquor license that can allow them to better compete and stay in business.”

From quaint Woodbine in southern Cape May County, to historic Clinton in northwest Hunterdon County, to the Shore region of Bay Head, and the booming northern urban center of Newark, the growing list of mayors echoed Murphy’s sentiment that liquor license reform will not only “create greater equity across the board, it will also serve as a major catalyst to spur economic development and strengthen and revitalize downtowns throughout New Jersey.”

In lending their support and advocating for reform, all 90 charter members of the mayors’ coalition signed an open letter noting, “Given the exorbitant costs for a license, coupled with the lack of availability and the existing population cap for municipalities, the present system favors the economically advantaged while hampering mom-and-pop businesses and towns with smaller populations.”

Murphy also shared a video featuring various members of the coalition and local business owners who testified to the importance of liquor license reform and the transformative impact it would have on their communities.

In February, a comprehensive proposal was introduced in the Legislature by Sen. Gordon Johnson (D-Teaneck) and Assemblyman Raj Mukherji (D-Jersey City), which would:

  • Gradually phase out the existing population cap on licenses over five years until it is permanently eliminated;
  • Maintain local control;
  • Establish progressive prices and associated fees based upon business size and a cap on the annual renewal fee not to exceed $2,500;
  • Repatriate inactive licenses to boost availability;
  • Eliminate the secondary market that currently makes licenses unaffordable for small business owners;
  • Permanently ease the restrictions that have hampered breweries; and
  • Provide a mechanism to support existing license holders.

Since then, numerous chefs, restaurant owners, brewery owners and now mayors have voiced their support for reforms to create a more equitable playing field with the potential to generate massive economic opportunities for small businesses and communities statewide.

The Murphy administration said it continues to engage stakeholders and advocate for equitable reforms and looks forward to working with lawmakers to finalize a comprehensive plan that will eliminate the existing roadblocks and unlock New Jersey’s economic development potential.