State lawmakers hear lots of ideas, some of them hugely costly, to invigorate moribund areas across the state. But one of the greatest obstacles to local economic development lies with legislators themselves — specifically, in their stranglehold, through state laws limiting the number of alcohol licenses, upon the number of economically viable restaurants in individual municipalities. By giving up that power, and letting cities and towns bring in new eateries, the Legislature can revive neighborhoods across the state without a dime of public expenditure.
The Legislature long ago adopted a population-based formula that specifies how many liquor licenses most municipalities can offer; in Boston’s case, lawmakers wrote specific numerical caps, which eventually proved inadequate, into state statute. Adopted in the spirit of temperance, these restrictions now serve to enrich anyone lucky enough to have received a license in the distant past — and they drive up the cost of getting into the restaurant business now.