Stymied by the political process and a short session, lawmakers legalized Sunday alcohol sales this year , but left the thornier issues of price restrictions and marketplace competition to a 15-member task force.
The 15-member task force met for the first time Wednesday and by the end of the brief meeting it was clear their job won’t be simple.
The task force must examine, review, and analyze Connecticut alcoholic liquor taxes, quantity and volume discounts, existing liquor permit restrictions, minimum pricing and price posting. It’s also expected to compare those findings with other states and note the impact on consumers and industry stakeholders.
David Leon, a package store owner and member of the task force, asked if it would be appropriate to add beer territories to the list of items under discussion.
Rep. Kathy Tallarita, a Democrat from Enfield and co-chairwoman of the task force, agreed that beer territories should be added to the list.
A beer territory is the limited geographic area where a beer distributor can sell their beer. For example, a package store in Enfield has to buy their beer from Hartford Distributors, and it can‘t, even if it wants to, purchase beer from a distributor in another part of the state.
Tallarita said the task force will take an “in depth look” at all the issues and create a comprehensive report for the General Law Committee by Jan. 1 of next year.
Dominic Alaimo, who owns Freshwater Package Store in Enfield, said he can’t wait for the task force to look at all of the pricing issues that make it difficult for him to compete with package stores north of the border in Massachusetts. Sunday sales was a good first step, but Alaimo embraced Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s more comprehensive package of reforms.
Carroll Hughes, the head of the Connecticut Package Store Association, said if the task force looks at all the issues of competitiveness then it can’t focus solely on pricing. He said he thinks the task force is going to be “surprised at how complex the issue is.”
It was Malloy, who surprised lawmakers earlier this year by proposing a comprehensive package of liquor reforms in addition to Sunday sales. Malloy pushed for industry reforms that would lower prices for consumers. A constant refrain of his included asking why a bottle of wine would cost $21.99 in Massachusetts, when same bottle costs $29.99 in Connecticut.
In the end the legislature agreed to Sunday sales and allowing stores to discount one item per month, but it hasn’t stopped Malloy from continuing to push for consumer relief.
“I think we are anti-consumer in this state,“ Malloy said Tuesday at an unrelated event. “We’re driving up costs artificially, we’re hurting ourselves. It wasn’t just Sunday sales, it was Sunday sales and pricing that was causing us $570 million worth of sales,” to flee the state.
What is clear, is whatever the task force recommends the legislature will be debating the issue again next year.