Gov. Dannel P. Malloy isn’t upset that two liquor store chains have decided to violate Connecticut’s minimum pricing law by offering some of their products below the mandated state minimum.
It’s a law Malloy has been trying to change since at least 2012 when he introduced a package of legislation to change how liquor is sold in Connecticut. He was successful in allowing liquor to be sold on Sundays, but changing this aspect of how the market operates has proved more challenging.
Lawmakers have dismissed Malloy’s attempts to change Connecticut’s minimum pricing regulations for at least the past four years.
Malloy said Tuesday that he believes that the current law, which requires stores to obey the state minimum pricing law, “to be illegal.”
“I believe we’re penalizing our state residents by charging them substantially more for alcoholic beverages than surrounding states,” Malloy added.
But would he press Consumer Protection Commissioner Jonathan Harris not to investigate?
“I’m not going to get involved,” Malloy said. “The commissioner has a job to do and there’s a standard way in which that job is done.”
But Malloy wasn’t going to encourage Total Wine & More, a chain that has four locations in Connecticut, and BevMax, a chain with 11 Connecticut stores, to stop violating the law.
“Either you properly challenge the law or you abide by it,” Malloy said.
Total Wine & More filed an antitrust action last week against the Department of Consumer Protection for the pricing scheme, which it then proceeded to violate.
The Department of Consumer Protection said it is investigating the recent pricing decisions made by both chains.
Any person who violates Connecticut’s pricing laws and regulations may be liable for fines of up to $1,000 or imprisonment up to one year or both. In addition, the Department of Consumer Protection has the authority to suspend and revoke a retailer’s permit for violating the Liquor Control Act.
Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, wrote to Harris on Tuesday and encouraged him to enforce the current law, which doesn’t allow these retailers to lower their prices below the state minimum.
“Their behavior is completely inexcusable,” Fasano said of the liquor retailers. “I ask that you act swiftly to implement the appropriate punishment including but not limited to a temporary injunction to stop this violation of state law.”
He said the decision to violate Connecticut law will only continue if Harris doesn’t take action against these retailers.
“The illegal actions of one retailer have spread and will continue to spread without swift action by your department,” Fasano said. “You need to make it extremely clear to all big box stores that breaking the law cannot and will not be tolerated in the state of Connecticut.”
Carroll Hughes, executive director of the Connecticut Package Store Association, has said that Connecticut lawmakers have rejected attempts to eliminate the minimum bottle price.
Hughes argues that eliminating minimum bottle pricing would cause small package stores to go out of business and allow chains like Total Wine & More to “dominate the marketplace as a predatory competitor.” He said the state has already allowed for the elimination of minimum bottle pricing on certain items agreed to by the stores and the Liquor Control division of the Department of Consumer Protection.
Malloy disagrees with Hughes’ analysis of the situation and believes the state would see an increase in sales and tax revenues if the minimum pricing law was eliminated.
Fasano sides with Hughes in this debate.
“Without these laws in place many small mom-and-pop package stores would be run out of business by large retail chains,” Fasano told Harris Tuesday in his letter. “You and only you have the obligation to protect these businesses and any hesitation by your department cannot be tolerated.”