Mayor Paul Soglin has continued his public health crusade against alcohol in Madison with a proposal to implement a “moratorium on the issuance of new alcohol licenses in a high density, high police call area in downtown.” Within his proposal, he included a map outlining the area to be affected. Spanning an area of roughly 45 blocks, the proposal would cover the bulk of businesses, bars and restaurants on the campus side of the state Capitol.
Soglin demonstrated his resolve on the issue by vetoing the liquor license for the new Taco Bell Cantina. Behind Soglin’s commitment to the proposal lies his fears of alcohol-related violence and the intensity of drinking in the area, as well as Madison at large.
While his fear of alcohol’s outsized presence in Madison is well placed, his proposal does little to enact positive gains in public safety. The current proposal — which is set to renew every six months unless the government implements practices that tackle alcohol consumption and its consequence — does little to curb the current levels of violence and drinking.
Soglin and the City Council should work to craft policies that increase public safety and health, as opposed to maintaining the admittedly poor levels that he frequently admonishes. Kicking the can down the road and waiting for a solution will help no one, especially businesses in the area.
As new restaurants and bars move into Madison they often look to beer and liquor sales to help stay competitive in a community in touch with its drinking culture. Punishing new businesses for the excesses of others will not only likely tarnish Madison’s pro-business reputation, but it is also an ineffective method of controlling violence and over-consumption.
One does not assault someone in a drunken rage because they had a surplus of bars to choose from. They get drunk and fight, or go to detox because a beer at the pregame was $0.33, the rail drinks at the bar were $0.50 and they got to drink uninterrupted until the early hours of the morning.
Soglin and the council have options that will aid them as they attempt to increase public health and safety, although they are sure to be wildly unpopular amongst many of the students and community members alike.
To tackle excessive drinking at the bars, limiting dirt-cheap drink specials would go a long way in discouraging the binge drinking that often leads to the problems Soglin wishes to ameliorate. Along with this, cutting down the hours available for patrons to drink around town by moving bar close forward would potentially have the same effect.
The most relevantly consequential power the mayor and city council are able to exercise, however, is increasing the alcohol tax. Studies time and again have shown increasing the price of alcohol is the most tried and true method of decreasing consumption, especially in the larger scale.
All three of these proposals could help with what Soglin sees as Madison’s drinking problem. All three will no doubt be met with sharp resistance from anyone who stands to profit from alcohol sales, whether it be waiters, bartenders, restaurant owners, liquor store cashiers — the list goes on. This resistance will not be unfounded.
Steps taken to reduce alcohol consumption will decrease the revenue for those selling alcohol. Businesses will be hurt. The critical question going forward is where the mayor and the city council place their priorities, and how they intend to balance public health and safety with the wants and needs of the business community. For Soglin the answer looks murky — he has displayed some fiery rhetoric with little to show in the way of substantive action.
Emmett Sexton ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in sociology and economics.