Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on Friday launched another campaign to change the laws governing the state’s liquor sales with some strong rhetoric for lawmakers inclined to maintain the current alcohol pricing structure.
“People who don’t support this support Connecticut consumers being gouged,” he said at a press conference.
Malloy, who has weighed in on alcohol sales during previous legislative sessions, is seeking a several changes this year. He wants to:
-Change a set minimum bottle price law by letting retailers sell alcohol at cost.
-Allow alcohol sales until 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 8 p.m. on Sunday.
-Increase a limit on the number of shops a package store owner can run from three to six.
The governor’s comments on price gouging were directed at the minimum bottle price policy. Malloy, a Democrat, was asked why he expects the Democrat-controlled legislature to embrace his change this year, when it has declined to shake up alcohol pricing in past sessions.
Currently, the lowest price a package store can charge for a bottle of alcohol is a set price known as the “bottle price.” It’s established by wholesalers and posted monthly. This keeps alcohol prices at smaller liquor stores in line with the prices at larger stores, which could otherwise offer discounts.
The governor believes the fixed minimum price results in Connecticut consumers paying more than they would in another state. Malloy wants to let retailers set the price, so long as they sell booze for at least the price they purchased it at.
Lawmakers have responded to concerns by the owners of small package stores and rejected the change. Malloy proposed the provision as part of a bill to legalize the sale of alcohol on Sundays. The legislature passed that bill, but not before stripping the minimum pricing language from it. The governor pushed the bill again in 2013 and the legislature again declined to pass it.
On Friday, Malloy said rejecting the proposal this year was tantamount to gouging Connecticut residents.
“I want to be very clear. That’s what that decision is. If this doesn’t pass the committee, if it doesn’t pass the House and it doesn’t pass the Senate, what that is, is a vote for our consumers paying more for a product than they can obtain in neighboring states. Those folks are going to have to own it in that context,” he said.
Senate President Martin Looney, who was standing near Malloy after participating in an unrelated press conference, did not weigh in on the issue. Malloy preempted a question directed at the Senate leader.
“I gave him a chance to run for the door. He didn’t take it, but you’re not going to get him on my dime,” Malloy said.
Carroll Hughes, a lobbyist for the Connecticut Package Store Association, rejected Malloy’s “gouging” argument and said the state’s high alcohol prices have more to do with taxes than with minimum pricing.
“The only gouger here is the state tax structure,” he said in an interview. “Big time. It’s the highest tax in New England. Both the excise tax and the sales tax.”
Liquor store owners have taken their case to the state Capitol to push back on Malloy’s proposals in past years. In 2012, more than 900 people flooded the Legislative Office Building for a public hearing on an alcohol bill. Hughes said lawmakers are compelled by the small business owners’ narrative.
“I have a substantial number of people that are invested in these small stores. They work hard. Legislators see the faces of the people and they talk to people,” he said. “I’m a fan of small business, not huge package stores taking over the whole business.”