By Michael Gerstein, Associated Press
LANSING (AP) - Gas station convenience store owners are upset about legislation headed to Gov. Rick Snyder that would let grocery stores with gas stations sell beer and wine.
Lobbyists for the convenience stores and some lawmakers from rural districts in Michigan say the bill gives big businesses a leg up on the competition, allowing them to meet start-up capital requirements automatically by counting pre-existing inventory toward a requirement for selling booze. Businesses big and small are subject to the same rule necessitating them to have at least $250,000 worth of non-alcoholic inventory if they also sell fuel.
"It is a carve-out for Meijer and some of the other big stores. To deny it is, quite frankly, an exercise in semantic gymnastics," Rep. Ray Franz, R-Onekama, said to other House lawmakers before it passed 68-41 during the second to last week before lawmakers' two-week in-district work period. The Senate OK'd the legislation on Thursday 28-8.
Republican Reps. Peter Pettalia of Presque Isle and Ed McBroom of Vulcan also called the bill an "unfair" advantage.
Franz said the issue is emotional for him because he used to own a grocery store. It recently folded 27 years after it went up in flames in 1989 and was restored by Onekama residents who pitched in $85,000 to rebuild after the fire, Franz said. He cites that history as an example of a community invested in local business.
Big businesses like Meijer are "becoming so dominant as to be crushing," Franz said. He thinks the bill will make it even easier for big box stores to swallow mom-and-pop shops.
Lobbyists who say it gives grocery stores like Meijer an unfair advantage say they're going to ask Snyder to veto the legislation. But that seems unlikely, said John Griffin, executive director of the American Petroleum Institute in Michigan.
Griffin said the legislation was "very political," and went through because of a lobbying group that backs the bill, the Michigan Beer and Wine Wholesalers Association.
"I would disagree that this bill makes that situation worse or was some type of an assault," said Spencer Nevins, president of the Beer and Wine Wholesalers Association.
Nevins said he's happy with the bill, which House Majority Floor Leader Aric Nesbitt sponsored. Nevins said it wouldn't hurt rural gas stations.
He said if they were already competing with Meijer and other big grocers the bill wouldn't make it worse. The bill also includes a section allowing certain rural gas stations to sell beer and wine.
Nesbitt said big grocery stores already meet the minimum inventory requirement and the bill just lets them sell beer and wine like other gas stations that meet that threshold.
"As you look at it, this allows for a more open, more competitive marketplace," Nesbitt said.
Mark Griffin, president of the Michigan Petroleum Association, said the bill might put some small convenience stores out of business, however, and called it "totally unfair."
"We hope the governor vetoes the legislation," he said.
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