Getting close to home

If, as former U.S. House Speaker Tip O’Neill, once observed, “All politics is local,” state government’s financial politics are becoming more and more local. Be watching for them to show up in your back yard. Some already are there but many Missourians haven’t stepped in them yet.

The matter that’s been getting the most attention in the last few days is the cutoff of state enforcement of its liquor and tobacco laws. As we and other media have reported, the new state budget has been cut in half for the Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Control. Seventeen people who used to pull surprise inspections in your town are gone.

So who will check to make sure booze and tobacco aren’t being sold to people too young to buy them? That would be the people known as “the locals:” your police department and your sheriff’s department.

Of course, “the locals” are pretty busy as it is. And city police departments and county sheriff departments will struggle to find the time and the staff to do the state’s work. County and city finances are pretty dismal, too.

The state division will continue to fulfill its function as an agency that imposes regulations and reviews licenses — meaning if “the locals” can spare the people and the time to catch some convenience store clerk selling beer or cigarettes to someone who’s 19, the state can yank a liquor or cigarette sales license.

But actual enforcement of the law? That’s in your back yard now. State budget experts say the fiscal year starting July 1, 2011 is going to be a lot worse than the one we’re going to start in about two weeks.

Your backyard is likely to be a lot more crowded. Take it from Tip.

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