Friday, May 14, 2010

Craft Beer Week & Senator Joe Vitale

The silence has been deafening.

OK, that's a little melodramatic. But more than a month ago – March 29th, in fact – this blog teamed with PubScout blogger Kurt Epps in some outreach to a Trenton lawmaker in the hopes of winning a state proclamation or resolution designating May 17-23 as American Craft Beer Week in New Jersey.

Such a designation would have echoed the congressional endorsement of Craft Beer Week and trained an additional spotlight on the craft brewing industry in New Jersey.

No such luck.

Not only did we strike out, but state Sen. Joseph Vitale didn't even acknowledge the email asking to discuss the idea with him. Nor did he acknowledge a reminder last month that the date of the May observance was approaching.

Some background: We prevailed upon Sen. Vitale because he has more craft beer producers – J.J. Bitting, Harvest Moon and Pizzeria Uno brewpubs – in his district of Middlesex County than any other lawmaker in Trenton. He also serves on the Senate's economic growth committee.

Alas, not a peep from Senator Joe in response to our emails. (For the record when his office was contacted via telephone, email was cited as the preferred method of reaching out to him.)

There are a host of things wrong with this, and some of them have nothing to do with craft beer.

Topping the list is that PubScout Kurt hails from the Middlesex County town of Perth Amboy, and as such, Senator Joe's name has appeared on the ballot in Kurt's voting booth every four years since the late 1990s.

That's a long way of saying Kurt is a constituent and that his representative in the upper chamber of the New Jersey Legislature – Senator Vitale – ignored a constituent who called the district office, then complied with the office's wishes of how to be contacted.

Hmm. Maybe that email business is just a device the senator's office uses to blow off people whom he's elected to represent. Whatever.

Now let's take the economic growth angle, and bear in mind we still haven't predicated things on beer yet.

Anyway you look at it, Harvest Moon in New Brunswick, JJ Bitting in Woodbridge and Pizzeria Uno in Metuchen are businesses and are part of their local economies. Since they collect sales taxes, they're part of the state economy, too. Those businesses – all constituents like Kurt – were ignored as well, albeit in a roundabout way. (For the record, it was pointed out in the email to Senator Vitale that his district includes those brewpubs, but the three were not specifically named. And those brewpubs were not contacted and asked to sign on to the outreach effort.)

Now we get to the beer part.

As we know (and perhaps Senator Vitale does not), New Jersey has a craft beer industry, and in fact, it's growing: three additions to the family over the past 10 months. That puts our headcount at 20 craft breweries in the form of brewpubs and production brewers. And they pay a per-gallon state tax just to brew beer, and that tax is just the headwaters of the levies on beer.

But wait, there's more.

Nationally, craft beer is a $7 billion a year industry, according to the Brewers Association, the industry's trade group. And that figure was $6 billion last year, reflecting, you guessed it, some economic growth à la the kind you would think a lawmaker would be concerned with as a member of a legislative panel called an economic growth committee.

Let's take that economic growth thing a step further, since at least one New Jersey craft brewer was approached last year about exporting to Europe. Imagine a senate committee that helps New Jersey businesses develop overseas markets. Seems rather hard to pull off if that panel has deaf ears.

But maybe we're overplaying the significance of American Craft Beer Week. Nope, not a chance. Especially when you consider that $7 billion; it's a pretty significant rallying point, and the observance is a way to highlight and get behind the industry's economic and cultural contributions.

And it's not too much to ask elected officials to support an industry and its potential (not to mention being responsive to constituents). The House of Representatives has done so by endorsing craft beer week and creating a caucus on small breweries back in 2007.

Rep. Leonard Lance of Hunterdon County is a member of the House Small Brewers Caucus, joining the caucus after learning his congressional district included five New Jersey craft brewers. Lance, a former state senator who was elected to Congress in 2008, even paid a visit to his craft brewer constituents a few months back.

At the end of the day, this is about commerce. Craft beer is bona fide and growing industry across the country, generating tax revenues and jobs. New Jersey has a small piece of that industry. But it could be bigger.

And it seems like Trenton – where these days red ink inundates the ledgers – lawmakers would embrace revenue-generating industries.

Anyway, it's American Craft Beer Week. Support craft brewers. Maybe someday Trenton will.


RGDave said...

Good call, thanks for drawing attention to this. Elected officials that don't respond to communication from the voting, or reporting, public are of little use in their positions.

Kurt E. Epps said...

Amen, Brother Jeff. Check your email.

Kurt Epps-The PubScout said...

Amen, Brother.

Warren Bobrow said...

What other group has their headquarters directly across the street from the Statehouse in Trenton? Oh, yeah, there are a few law firms and design companies, but the one that stands out to me is the NJ Liquor Commission. Sure wish that Trenton Gov't and the Liquor Commission spoke the same language.