Government Shutdown in Minnesota: Laid Off and No Beer

By Jeff Forester 07/15/11

MillerCoors may disappear from state shelves due to furloughed licensing employees.

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Beer imperiled in a German/Scandinavian state.
Photo via postbulletin

The 23,000 Minnesota State workers laid off when the Minnesota government shut down last week may not even have their favorite beer to help fill up the down time. Brewing giant MillerCoors is caught in a political game of chicken being played in Minnesota, and the company’s 39 popular brands of beer will soon be pulled from the state’s shelves unless a compromise is reached. Democratic Governor and recovering alcoholic Mark Dayton proposed solving Minnesota's $5.3 billion deficit with a combination of cuts and an income tax surcharge on those earning more than $1 million a year. The Republican-controlled House and Senate refused to accept any revenue increases, and on July 1st, all but the most essential services in Minnesota shut down—state parks, highway rest areas, fishing license services, logging operations, and a host of government functions, including liquor licensing.

Minnesota has notified MillerCoors that it must pull its products from the state's liquor stores, bars, and restaurants due to licensing problems caused by the shutdown. Doug Neville, spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, said that MillerCoors' brand label registrations had technically expired, and state employees who would normally process the renewal have been furloughed.  While no final deadline has yet been imposed, the state is looking at a timeline of "days, not weeks" for the brewer to comply. Company spokesman Julian Green told KIMT News in Austin: "With 39 brands at stake in one of the largest markets in the country during one of the highest selling periods in the summer, we don't take our business of ensuring proper state licenses lightly." Green insisted that MillerCoors did get the necessary paperwork done before the shutdown, and said MillerCoors has not ruled out legal action to fight the order. And by the way, the grand total for the license fees in question? $30 per brand, or $1,170 total. In the meantime, unless the budget impasse is resolved, many beer-loving Minnesotans will have to switch hit this summer.

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Jeff Forester is a writer in Minnesota. His book, Forest for the Trees: How Humans Shaped the North Woods, an ecological history of his state's famed Boundary Waters, came out in paperback in 2009. Jeff is the Executive Director of MN Lakes and Rivers Advocates MLR and you can follow him on Twitter.