It’s a debate that’s been going on for years, but proponents of a bill that would allow stores to sell beer, wine, and liquor on Sundays hope this year the numbers are on their side.
The Office of Fiscal Analysis estimated on Jan. 14 that if stores were allowed to be open on Sunday alcohol sales would increase 2.8 percent, and the state would see an increase of $2.4 million in sales tax and $1.2 million in excise taxes. In 2009 a Program Review and Investigations report on a similar bill estimated the measure would bring in between $7 million and $8 million.
When the state is running an estimated $3.67 billion deficit in fiscal year 2012, some lawmakers said they’ll take any amount of money they can get, even if it means erasing one of the vestiges of its Puritan past.
“I do think it’s going to bring in additional revenues,“ Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, said.
However, Carroll Hughes, a lobbyist for the Connecticut Package Store Association, believes it will put an estimated 300 to 350 of the state’s 1,100 package stores out of business. He’s also leery about how much it will help much with the state’s bottom line.
“There is no revenue here or the revenue is minuscule at best,” Hughes said.
Hughes told the committee he did his own research on the issue and found that $1.5 million in additional sales would have to occur in order to generate $141,333 in revenue for the state.
He said when the Program Review and Investigations Committee researched the issue last year they made of mistake of combining the excise tax revenue from package stores in Massachusetts, which lifted its ban on Sunday sales, with tax revenue from alcohol sales in restaurants. He said they also made the mistake of including the prison population with its per capita information.
Jay Hibbard, vice president of the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, told the General Law Committee that since 2002, 14 states have adopts laws allowing Sunday sales of alcohol and in many of those states the excise tax revenue increased the following year. In Colorado, which adopted Sunday sales in 2008, it increased 6 percent and in New York it increased 7 percent, he said.
He said Connecticut is one of only three states that doesn’t allow alcohol to be sold in stores on Sundays. The other two states are Georgia and Indiana.
Rep. Frank Nicastro, D-Bristol, said “that doesn’t necessarily make us wrong.”
But representatives from several grocery stores said they too support the measure. It was agreed by both sides that Sunday is one of the two busiest shopping days of the week.
Paul Jahnige, who represents Stop & Shop Supermarkets, said customers are very boisterous about wanting to do all their shopping at one time.
But Hughes said that’s great for grocery store owners who sell more than one product. He said his package store owners are prohibited from selling anything but alcohol. He said if Sunday sales are allowed 20 percent of beer sales will move from local package stores to the grocery stores.
He said that’s just one of the trends that will help put some of his package store owners out of business. But Hibbard said he has not heard of that happening in other states that have allowed Sunday sales.
Dominic Alaimo, owner of Freshwater Package Store in Enfield, said he supports Sunday sales. He asked lawmakers to remember the debate to ban smoking in restaurants. He said they all whined they would lose business.
“It never happened,” Alaimo said.
Alaimo said he would like to be open in Sundays so he can compete with neighboring states like Massachusetts. His store is about two miles south of the Massachusetts border.
The mayors of Hartford, New Haven, and Bridgeport implored lawmakers to use their legislative authority to lift the Sunday sales ban in order to save critical government programs. The press release cited the Program Review and Investigations report, which Hughes says used the wrong numbers because it combined the sales and taxes for both package stores and restaurants.
New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. stated, “2011 is a year when we have to start doing things differently. Allowing Sunday liquor sales will generate sales and excise tax revenues Connecticut that have the power to save vital programs that are currently on the chopping block.”