Since the General Assembly approved Sunday alcohol sales last year, the state has been waiting to see if the experiment worked. On Thursday, Revenue Services Commissioner Kevin Sullivan proclaimed it had.
In a press release, Sullivan said “that an increase in alcoholic beverage receipts is directly related to Governor Malloy and the State Legislature taking action last session to allow Sunday sales.”
But Carroll Hughes, head of the Connecticut Package Store Association, said alcohol sales over the past seven months are down, not up.
He said even reports from the Department of Revenue Services show sales are down -0.20 percent. A spokeswoman for the Department of Revenue Services said the number doesn’t include penalties and fees assessed, which need to be added to the total tax collected.
So while it looks like sales are down, they’re actually up slightly.
Sullivan claims that from last July through this January the volume of alcoholic products sold by Connecticut retailers increased by nearly 3 percent to 45,523,669 gallons. This equates to $1.3 million in additional excise taxes.
“Not every retailer selling beer and other alcoholic beverages sees increased sales,” Sullivan said. “Overall, however, the results are positive and especially for those who stretched to be more competitive.”
Sullivan admitted that an increase in sales doesn’t necessarily mean all package stores in the state are benefitting, but a 5 percent increase in distilled spirits, which can only be sold in package stores, is a good indicator that at least part of the bump can be attributed to Sunday sales.
Hughes said members of his package store association operate their books on the calendar year so it’s tough to say exactly how they’ve done over the past seven months, but anecdotally most broke even and some saw a half percent increase in sales. But Hughes said he finds it hard to believe any of this can be attributed to Sunday sales.
The Department of Revenue Services doesn’t aggregate sales numbers based on day of the week, but it still believes Sunday sales can be seen as a factor in the increase.
“We have no way of pinpointing the exact days of the week the alcohol was sold,” Sarah Kaufman, a spokeswoman for DRS, said.
Hughes said then he finds it difficult to believe they’re able to draw the conclusion that the increase is attributed to Sunday sales.
Sunday sales was a concept championed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy last year. Hughes’ organization saw the inevitable change coming and decided to embrace it while fending off what it felt could have been worse changes to liquor laws.
One of those changes it felt would be detrimental was Malloy’s proposal to change how alcohol is priced. The concept received a lively public hearing this year, but the legislature’s General Law Committee eventually shot it down.
But the legislature’s defeat of the legislation doesn’t necessarily mean the concept is dead. Malloy administration Chief of Staff Mark Ojakian promised when it died in March that it would be revived.
“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.
The administration is estimating it would raise $3 million for the state over the course of two years. Sunday sales was expected to generate more than $5 million a year in additional revenue for the state. Hughes argues that if it’s only up $1.3 million after seven months, it’s not going to realize all the additional money it expected when it included the revenue in the budget.