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NY microbrewers overcome legislative hurdles to lower licensing fees.

Like yeast in the brewing process, lobbyists are a necessary ingredient in the legislative process.

Just ask Jim Moran, owner of Brown & Moran's Brewing Co. in Troy, NY.

Moran and his partners discovered in late 1990 that to open a brew pub--a tavern which serves its own draft beer on the premises they would have to pay an annual state brewery licensing fee of $3,125.

The fee seemed unfair to Morgan because it was equal to the one paid by industry giants such as Anheuser-Busch, which brews millions of barrels a year. "We'll brew in a year what the big breweries spill in a day," Morgan said.

Moran organized a grassroots lobbying campaign to lower the licensing fee for microbreweries. But the bill died in the state Legislature in 1992 and it wasn't until Moran and other brewers hired a professional lobbyist that it passed in the waning moments of the 1993 spring session.

Gov. Mario Cuomo signed the finished product, a reduced microbrewery fee of $250 a year, earlier this summer.

"Why does it take a constituent, a small business person, three years to work on getting a common-sense fair piece of legislation through?" Moran asked.

Government watchdog groups and some lobbyists say that Moran's experience typifies the inaccessibility of state lawmakers to the average citizens.

"If you don't know how the game's played here, you lose," said Blair Horner, legislative director for the New York Public Interest Research Group. "Jane and Joe homeowner, who do not have any money to hire anybody to represent them up here, lose out the most."

Lobbying is big business in New York. The state lobbying commission reported that a record $34.8 million was spent on lobbying state government in 1992, up 14 percent from the previous year.

Some 1,789 registered lobbyists represented 1,060 private clients and 44 public corporations at the state Capitol last year.

"It's definitely not a system the citizenry generally can work through," one professional lobbyist, who requested anonymity, told The Sunday Gazette of Schenectady.

"Legislators learn how to listen to lobbyists and forget how to listen to their constituents, which is really who they work for," said Andrew Greenblatt, executive director of New York State Common Cause.

In the case of the microbreweries, Moran successfully organized small breweries around the state and got the bill sponsored by Sen. Hugh Farley, R-Niskayuna, in the Senate, where it passed easily in 1992 and 1993.

But the bill stalled in the Assembly, and calls by Moran to Assembly Ways and Means Chairman Sheldon Silver and several legislative staffers got him nowhere.

Kirby Shyer, founder of Zip City Brewing Co. in Manhattan, said that when he asked Albany insiders why the bill didn't pass he was told that the tax-break proposal would reduce state revenues.

Finally, as the Legislature prepared to recess this summer, the microbrewers hired former state lobbying commission chief Louis Cotrona and his son, Christopher, to lobby for the microbrewery bill at a price of $5,000.

Two days later, the bill passed the Assembly.

Louis Cotrona said he did nothing unusual to smooth the way for the bill and it was not a particularly difficult job because the measure had no major opposition.

He was simply able to direct the attention of members of the Assembly and their staffers in ways the brewers could not, he said. The process was "like poli-sci 101," he said.

The experience was bittersweet for Moran. "It took three years," he said. "Three years of constantly working at it, and then at the 11th hour, I have to pay a lobbyist to get the job done.... We met Lou and his son, and they seemed decent and honest, but we had to pay them."
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Title Annotation:small breweries
Publication:Modern Brewery Age
Date:Aug 23, 1993
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