From prematurely shuttered retailers to lifeless, peopleless downtown haunts, Sundays in many parts of the deep South are an utter bore.
Blue laws, which restrict alcohol sales, shopping and other activities on a supposed — and one would add, arbitrary — day of rest, are probably unconstitutional since they attempt to regulate what people can and can’t do based solely on religious doctrine dating all the way back to Genesis and on an omnipotent deity’s apparent need for rest.
Slide past the questionable legality of these regulations and the non sequitur that an all-powerful being can become overworked or would even desire a day of rest, and we can pinpoint a more pressing question.
Would repealing blue laws in the South assist in tightening budget shortfalls in some of the poorest states in the nation?
It’s not coincidental, nor terribly surprising, that among 14 states with Sunday liquor sale laws on the books, eight of them — Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia — have poverty rates at 16 percent or more of the total population of each state, according to a report released in September from the U.S. Census Bureau. Further, areas in this region of the nation require more educational funding, not less, and one could make the case that lifting blue laws on alcohol and Sunday shopping may provide a significant financial boost to regions that need it the most.
Some of the more forward-thinking states recognize the increased economic potential of loosening up liquor and consumption regulations. A CNBC article from September 2010 indicates that Massachusetts, Arizona and others are rolling back the time at which people can begin drinking. In the former state, for instance, consumers can begin ordering cocktails at 10 a.m. on Sundays, which is two hours earlier than the previously allowed time.
Terming the new law, “common-sense, pro-business legislature,” Arizona Rep. Matt Heinz said allowing alcohol sales to start at 6 a.m. would boost business revenues, particularly in the state’s resort communities.
In Connecticut, which seems to be one of the more surprising states on the blue law list, the mayors of Bridgeport, New Haven and Hartford support repealing the state’s Sunday liquor laws altogether. The mayors have made the case that the state could receive $8 million per year in added revenue if repealed.
But in the financially hagridden southern states, lessons are hard-won.
A look at a Center on Budget and Policy Priorities report reveals that most states have enacted cuts to education, public health and other services, but it seems that the states in the deep South could at least put a sizable dent in shortfalls if politicians could get past the anachronisms that prop up the flimsy case for blue laws.
Cases such as this 2009 statement from Jim Beck, then-president of the Georgia Christian Coalition on a proposal in his state to repeal such regulations: “During times of economic stress, our families are under enough pressure. I don’t think we need to add even more pressure to those families by passing this law.”
Contrast that with the infinitely more qualified Auburn University economics professor David Laband, who also said in 2009, “States realize that consumers will migrate to a place where they can buy what they want. And whatever their reasons are for not wanting to sell on Sunday, these states realize they’re paying a price for it in foregone tax revenues. So once the economy goes bad, then the cost of their policies are apparent to them.”
Instances in which “foregone tax revenues” could at least assist in cinching up state budgets are not hard to find. Georgia has cut $403 million in K-12 education funding from fiscal year 2011 to 2010, while in North Carolina, some 20 schools with have no nurse of social worker this year because of cuts. The latter state has also temporarily removed funding for teacher mentoring.
Thus, passing through otherwise bustling areas of the South after 6 p.m. on Sundays is like passing through ghost towns, almost as if, at that magical tick of the clock, the lights have been turned off.