Despite a last-minute push by senior members of the administration, the General Law Committee won’t be passing Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s proposed changes to the state’s liquor pricing laws. But the administration does not plan to let the concept die.
Since last year, Malloy has sought to make changes to the state’s minimum liquor pricing statutes.
Currently, the minimum price a package store can charge for a bottle of alcohol is a wholesaler-established and posted “bottle price.” In Connecticut, this keeps alcohol prices at smaller liquor stores in line with larger stores, who otherwise may be able to sell at wholesale discounts.
The governor has argued that the law causes consumers to pay more for alcohol in Connecticut than in surrounding states.
However, small package store owners consistently turn out to oppose the legislation and during a hearing in February, committee members did not seem supportive of the concept.
On Wednesday, Malloy administration Chief of Staff Mark Ojakian and other senior members of the administration met behind closed doors with the committee’s Democratic members.
“We had a conversation to point out the benefits of the governor’s fair pricing proposal. We answered questions and really tried to speak to the fact that this proposal helps consumers,” Ojakian said after the meeting.
It wasn’t enough to convince the committee, whose members do not intend to move the proposal this year either, according to one of its chairmen, Sen. Paul Doyle.
“We’re not moving forward with it this year. We had a Democratic caucus and there really was not support to move it forward,” Doyle said.
Doyle and his co-chair, Rep. David Baram, gauged support less than a week before the committee’s deadline to act on legislation. They met immediately afterward with Ojakian to give him the bad news.
But no piece of legislation is ever truly dead.
Doyle acknowledged the committee’s inaction would not necessarily kill the concept.
“There is a budget process and an amendment process, and if it’s a priority for people, it could come back,” he said.
In a statement, Ojakian said the administration plans to bring the concept back before the session is over.
“Let’s be clear, failure to act on this bill would mean a simple refusal to stand with Connecticut consumers who are being unfairly and unnecessarily overcharged. And let’s also be clear that even if this committee does fail to act, the administration will continue to stand with consumers by advocating for this change as part of the governor’s broader budget proposal this session,” he said.
Carroll Hughes, head of the Connecticut Package Store Association, said the administration should look to reduce the alcohol excise tax if they want to save consumers money. He said package store owners already lost money on increased labor costs when the state legalized Sunday alcohol sales last year.
“We invested $7 million collectively last year for the noble experiment of Sunday sales. It’s somebody else’s turn to make an investment,” he said.
The Malloy administration estimates that the changes to minimum bottle pricing would raise around $5 million for the state over the course of two years. Hughes said he thought the estimates were overstated. Nonetheless, he said the administration’s lobbying efforts on behalf of the bill were “out-of-sync” with the amount of money it might raise.