Oregon liquor hours, staff may shrink, prices rise

SALEM — The state has cut commissions it pays to liquor dealers in Oregon, and some say they will cut staff and hours. Many who opt to open Sundays say they may stop.

Meanwhile, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission has called an emergency meeting for Monday to discuss, among other things, an increase in liquor prices, The Oregonian newspaper reported.

The Legislature made cuts last week in state agencies as it balanced the current state budget, a step lawmakers had to take before undertaking the bigger task for writing a state budget for 2009-2011.

They cut the Liquor Control Commission budget $3.6 million, including $1.9 million in commissions to the retailers.

That amounts to about 25 percent of the pay the store owners were expecting between now and June 30, the end of the state's fiscal year.

Oregon House members say the agents would be repaid some of the lost money if sales are high enough or if a proposed price increase brings in enough new revenue.

A lobbyist who represents store owners and several owners themselves say they expect cutbacks to be widespread among the state's 240 liquor outlets.

"If you can't control your revenue, you have to control your expenses," said Denny Stoll, owner of North Salem Liquor. "People like me are going to have to make some drastic changes."

Stoll said he no longer will sell on Sunday. Letting employees go is "still under discussion," he said, "but it looks like we'll have to."

Lobbyist Marshall Coba says the cuts don't make sense: Liquor sales contribute millions to the state's general fund.

For decades, Oregon law prohibited hard liquor from being sold on Sundays. The Legislature loosened that law during the last recession in 2002 in an attempt to raise more revenue.

Commission spokeswoman Christie Scott said every effort was made to reduce the blow to store owners, but the state's fiscal crisis required hard choices.

"This is what the Legislature asked us to do," she said. "How the agents respond to that is completely up to them. If they choose to make business decisions to reduce their hours, they can do that."

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