Brown floats new plan to extend D.C. bar hours, avoid drink tax hike

Local,DC,Alan Blinder

Confronted with a $3.2 million deficit after a D.C. Council committee stripped a proposal to extend bar hours throughout the year from the 2013 budget, Council Chairman Kwame Brown on Wednesday said the city could largely plug the gap by lengthening alcohol sales hours for holidays and throughout four holiday weekends.

Under the proposal Brown unveiled during a council budget meeting, the city would allow bars to sell alcohol until 4 a.m. on all District and federal holidays.

Brown's plan would also permit sales to 4 a.m. throughout weekends surrounding New Year's Eve, Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day.SClBExisting District law allows sales until 3 a.m. on holidays, for a one-hour extension from normal hours. On weekends, alcohol sales regularly run to 3 a.m.

"It tries to create a win-win situation," Brown said of his proposal.

When he rolled out his 2013 budget in March, Mayor Vincent Gray suggested extending bar hours by an hour to 3 a.m. on weekdays and 4 a.m. on weekends. A council committee, though, voted down the proposal.

But Gray was counting on the revenue his plan would have generated to help close a budget shortfall.

Brown's office calculated that his proposal would recoup $2 million. Reallocations of other dollars appropriated to the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration would make up the difference, Brown's office said.

Pedro Ribeiro, a spokesman for Gray, said the mayor was evaluating the proposal.

"We are reviewing the chair's proposal and hope to work with him," Ribeiro said.SClBA spokesman for Natwar Gandhi, the District's chief financial officer, declined to comment. Under District law, Gandhi must certify the proposal as being fiscally balanced before it can move forward.SClBBrown's plan tracks closely with another measure Gray proposed -- and a council committee approved -- to extend sales during the week of the presidential inauguration in 2013. Gray projected that change would generate $751,000 for the city's coffers.SClBWard 1 Councilman Jim Graham, who opposed Gray's sweeping extension plan and chairs the committee that removed it from the budget, said he was encouraged by Brown's proposal, but made no commitment of support.

"This is far preferable," Graham said. "There is no question about it."

Brown said his proposal would eliminate the need for Graham's plan to make up the $3.2 million gap: an increase of the District's alcohol excise tax of 6 cents per drink.SClBLynne Breaux, the president of the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington, said her trade group, which has opposed the suggested tax hike, was pleased that negotiations were ongoing.

"We're certainly glad to see the dialogue continuing and appreciate the chairman's creativity," Breaux said. "However, we fully support the proposal in the mayor's version [of the budget]."

The full council is slated to take its first vote on the budget Tuesday. A second, final vote is scheduled for June 5.

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