No Beer For Minnesota


The government of Minnesota has been shut down for the past two weeks, due to a budget impasse between the Democrat governor and Republican legislators.  Today there is word that Governor Mark Dayton is moving toward reaching a deal with the Republicans.

ABC News explains why this comes not a moment too soon:

The possible break in the impasse comes as the shut-down threatened to impact Minnesotans where it hurts:  by taking away their beer.  This week, state officials told MillerCoors to prepare for removing its products from store shelves and taverns because state employees responsible for licensing were laid-off.  The giant brewer supplies nearly 40% of Minnesota’s beer.

There are other government services unavailable as well, including the considerably more inconvenient inability to renew drivers’ licenses, but the Beer Freeze is the funny, irresistible hook that media outlets have fastened on.  Take away our cars if you must, but touch our booze, and it’s the empty shot glass heard round the world.

Why should a two-week government shutdown result in a licensing crisis that causes the happily burbling beer taps of Minnesota to fall silent?  For the answer, let us turn to the Star-Tribune:

The problem stems from brand label registrations that brewers must renew with the state every three years, showing the label on each brand of beer. MillerCoors attempted to renew in mid-June, but, according to company officials, sent the state a check for more than the required amount. Green said the company followed up with a new check, which the state received June 27.

But on June 30, one day before the government shutdown, the company received a letter from the state that its brand licenses had expired. State employees who would typically renew those licenses have been deemed noncritical during the shutdown and laid off.

So, MillerCoors did everything right, and followed all the rules… except they over-paid their licensing fees.  This caused the mindless bureaucracy to withhold their license renewal.  The budget crisis shut the government down before MillerCoors could jump through any further hoops and get their license back.

The layoff of those “noncritical” licensing employees has therefore put a huge amount of commerce, and many associated jobs, at risk.  Massive loss of revenue could be inflicted on a law-abiding company, its distributors, and its retailers.  Customers may be denied access to a product they prefer.  And it’s all because the intransigent governor of an insolvent state had to be pressured into exhibiting some measure of fiscal responsibility.

Let this be a lesson about the dangers of massive government, and its symbiotic growth into the private sector.  The private sector can follow all the rules… but still be ruined by a government that doesn’t follow the most basic business rule of maintaining balanced books. 

A lot of people working for MillerCoors and its affiliates probably don’t think those licensing employees are “noncritical” today, but the larger government becomes, the less its citizens have to say about which parts are “critical.”