If misery actually loves company, then Connecticut must have a very special bond with Georgia and Indiana. Those two states, with far different cultures than ours, are the last to stand with us in banning stores from selling alcoholic beverages on Sunday.
Looking for fixes to a projected $3.7-billion budget deficit and spurred by predictions of $3.6 million in revenues per year from additional sales and use taxes, lawmakers, along with mayors of the state’s three largest cities, are mounting one last effort to defeat a small special interest that exercises great influence disproportionate to its actual numbers.
At a legislative hearing Tuesday, representatives of both sides trotted out the usual arguments: package stores near state lines are at an unfair disadvantage; Sunday sales will drive small package stores out of business; the government has no business telling retailers which days of the week they can be open.
All the other New England states repealed this ridiculous statute years ago. How can it be that in Connecticut — not exactly the most religious state in the nation — we cling to Blue Laws that ban certain types of behavior on religious grounds?
Connecticut has come a long way since the 17th century, when Gov. Theophilus Eaton crafted a set of Puritanical laws banning everything from adultery to wearing clothes trimmed with gold.
Blue Laws banning large store openings in Connecticut were repealed decades ago, but statutes prohibiting off-site alcohol purchases have been in effect since the days when Rev. Eaton’s laws made it illegal to “travel, cook victuals, make beds, sweep house, cut hair, or shave on the Sabbath day.”
And perhaps someone can tell me why the state, in its infinite wisdom, deems it fine for its residents to stop by a local watering hole to quaff a few beakers, but unacceptable to buy the booze at a package store and bring it home.
As for the proposed legislation, guess who’s opposing it. The package store owners themselves. It seems counterintuitive that any business would want the government to forcibly restrict its hours of operation with the effect of sending business out of the state. But the liquor store owners’ lobbyist in Hartford, the Connecticut Package Stores Association, has succeeded in thwarting Sunday sales several times during the past five years.
The association, which represents 1,100 mostly mom-and-pop stores in 168 of the state’s 169 municipalities, insists that Sunday hours will increase revenues only slightly. But, of course, they don’t really care about the tax revenues anyway.
The association insists that its members will be forced to open on Sunday or lose business to those who do. Spokesman Carroll Hughes estimates 300 package stores would close because of the competitive threat posed by super markets that are already open on Sundays. And for those package stores that are able to remain open, it will cost them an extra $14,000 a year to open the extra day.
As Mr. Hughes well knows, no one is “forcing” anyone to do anything. Under the proposal before the General Assembly, Sunday openings would not be mandated. If the extra expense of hiring a clerk to work time-and-a-half on Sundays isn’t worth it, then stay closed. That’s just simple microeconomics.
Reluctant package store owners insist that they would be compelled to open on Sundays because of the competitive threat from the stores that do. Perhaps, but you could say the same thing about convenience stores or barber shops. Maybe the package store owners could explain why they deserve special protections from competition that others do not enjoy. They won’t be able to do that because there is no plausible explanation.
It’s time to repeal a silly law rooted in religion and protectionism. Let Georgia and Indiana carry that distinction alone.
Terry Cowgill blogs at terrycowgill.blogspot.com and was an award-winning editor and senior writer for The Lakeville Journal Company. He is host of Conversations with Terry Cowgill, an hour-long monthly interview program on CATV6 on Comcast’s northwest Connecticut system.