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Assembly committee approves food desert liquor license incentive

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Lawmakers are pushing ahead with a pair of economic incentives to encourage business owners to open grocery stores in so-called food deserts: a limited liquor license and tax credits against the local property tax.

On Thursday, the Assembly Human Services Committee voted 4-0 with two abstentions on Assembly Bill 4700, which would establish the Food Desert Elimination Act, to be jointly administered by the Department of Agriculture and Economic Development Authority.

The law is aimed at enticing business owners to set up grocery stores in urban areas where residents have limited access to nutritious foods.

Under the measure, the first person who opens a grocery store or supermarket in a designated food desert would receive a limited liquor license.

The license would be non-transferable and limited to the sale of alcoholic beverages off site - similar to a liquor store, and opposite of how alcohol is sold at a bar. The owner could only keep the license so long as they own the store.

The store would have to be at least 18,000 square feet and at least 90 percent of the store would have to be occupied by a full-service supermarket or grocery store.

A4700 also outlines a tax credit for business owners against their property taxes for opening a grocery store in an urban food desert.

Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-19th District, said the liquor license is vital to inject potential revenue into what otherwise might be an unprofitable endeavor.

“There’s a reason those stores aren’t there, because they can’t sustain themselves,” Coughlin said on Nov. 14 at the New Jersey League of Municipalities conference in Atlantic City.

But, the measure drew out the opposition of the New Jersey Wine and Spirits Wholesalers Association, the New Jersey Licensed Beverage Association and the New Jersey Liquor Store Alliance.

“In simplistic terms, A4700 will allow the Legislature to pick and choose winners and losers in our already overly competitive marketplace,” Paul Santelle, executive director of the NJLSA told NJBIZ. “Not only in respect to liquor stores, but even food stores. There are too many unintended consequences to list that will result from the passage and implementation of this legislation (even with its amendments).”

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Daniel J. Munoz

Daniel J. Munoz

Daniel Munoz covers politics and state government for NJBIZ. You can contact him at dmunoz@njbiz.com.

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