Minimum liquor pricing bill to get hearing at State Capitol Tuesday

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HARTFORD – Governor Dan Malloy is popping the cork on a proposal to get rid of minimum prices for alcohol in the state.

He announced a legislative proposal Monday to repeal the current law which forces package stores to sell alcohol at prices put in place by liquor wholesalers.

Malloy argues this will give more power to business owners, encourage free market principles and save the consumer money.

“Connecticut is the only state in the country that has a law mandating that the retailers of alcoholic beverages sell their products at a minimum price above wholesale cost determined by the wholesaler industry.  This means that – unlike everywhere else in the nation – these retailers cannot set the prices of the products that they put on the shelves in their own stores,” the governor’s office wrote in a press release.

The state adopted this law in 1981 and owner of Willowbrook Spirit Shoppe Jay Polke, backed by many other liquor store owners, wants to keep it that way.

Polke said taking away the minimum pricing laws would serve as an advantage to big box stores like Total Wine and More and BevMax and could tap out mom and pop shops.

“Their business is based on putting other people out of business and with the change in this law they will be able to do that,” he said. “They wanna be able to sell at cost or below cost and nobody knows what their cost is. They’re able to buy items that we can’t buy, everybody in the state of Connecticut should be able to buy the same items, that’s what our law is, but that’s not the case.”

Last year the two big box stores made a move against the current legislation by openly selling liquor and wine below state mandated minimum prices.

Willowbrook Spirit Shoppe employees are also worried that taking away the minimum price rule will have a ripple effect on other businesses in the state. For example, the stores will not be able to bring variety in their stores because they won’t be able to afford buying by the bottle from local breweries and wineries.

In the press release, the governor’s officer pointed to an ad that a Massachusetts chain of retail stores has using to target Connecticut residents saying they have more competitive prices.

“He thinks that more people will be attracted to the state of Connecticut because we will have cheaper liquor prices like Massachusetts does, but Massachusetts has a different business model than the state of Connecticut,” Polke said.

Polke said if this is really a consumer driven bill, the governor should look at lowering tax on liquor; in Massachusetts alcohol is sales tax free and their excise tax is lower.

In a statement Vice President, Public Affairs & Community Relations of Total Wine and More, Edward Cooper wrote: “Connecticut’s consumers deserve to be treated fairly.  We agree with Governor Malloy that keeping prices of wine and spirits artificially high, for the benefit of 1,100 package store owners, while the state is making difficult cuts to balance the budget is wrong and should be rectified by the legislature this year.”

Malloy has been working to end state price fixing since 2012 but has not been successful.

Senate Bill 789 “An act concerning the regional competitiveness of Connecticut’s alcoholic liquor prices,” will be taken up Tuesday afternoon at the capitol.