By SUSAN HAIGH, Associated Press
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ Now that Connecticut allows retail liquor and alcohol sales on Sundays and certain holidays, a new task force will begin looking at other possible changes to the state’s liquor laws, such as overhauling the state’s fixed pricing system for liquor that limits discounting by retailers.
The Competitive Alcohol Liquor Pricing Task Force is scheduled to meet for the first time on Wednesday and begin the job of coming up with recommendations for the General Assembly to consider next year. The panel faces a Jan. 1, 2013 deadline.
The 15-member group was created earlier this year when state lawmakers passed compromise legislation allowing Sunday sales from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at package stores and supermarkets _ an issue promoted by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, a Democrat. The task force members will review some of the more politically contentious issues Malloy had originally wanted to address but were not included in the final bill, such as deregulation of prices, taxes and volume discounts.
They will compare their findings with other states.
“The governor’s position hasn’t changed,” said Andrew Doba, Malloy’s spokesman. “He wants to make Connecticut businesses more competitive and to give consumers a break.”
When he first pitched his plan to overhaul the state’s liquor regulations, Malloy often spoke about how a 1.75 liter bottle of Absolut vodka was being advertised in Massachusetts for $25.99, while the minimum allowable price by law for that same bottle in Connecticut is $31.99. Those figures do not include taxes.
State Rep. Kathleen Tallarita, D-Enfield, a longtime proponent of allowing Sunday retail liquor sales, will co-chair the task force. She said it makes sense to take a serious look at pricing and other issues now that Sunday sales are allowed. Malloy signed the bill on May 14. Changing pricing and other rules now, she said, will make Connecticut’s liquor industry even more competitive with neighboring states.
“If we can really try and compete with pricing and give people a reason to stay in Connecticut …. that’s tax dollars that we are missing out on, that we shouldn’t be missing out on,” she said.
Besides the state’s tax and consumer protection commissioners, Malloy will have three appointees on the liquor task force. The six legislative leaders were allowed to appoint one member each to the panel, which also includes legislators and representatives from various interests, including the package stores. Tallarita said she is concerned, however, that the convenience stores and grocery stores, two key players in the debate earlier this year, will not be represented.
“I’m a little concerned that they’re not at the table, but I fully expect to be speaking with them,” she said, adding how the task force might hold hearings to make sure the members hear from all segments of the industry in Connecticut.
David Rutigliano, owner and culinary director of five SBC Restaurant and Brewery locations in Connecticut and the Sitting Duck Tavern in Stratford, was appointed to the task force by House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk. The legislative chairman for the Connecticut Restaurant Association, he said he’s glad that restaurants will have a seat.
“We were underrepresented in the first go-round. In fact, they never asked our opinion at all,” he said.
He said the restaurants, which make up 25 percent of all liquor sales in the state, had concerns with early proposals for quantity discounts because they would not be able to purchase as much liquor as the bill would have required for them to take advantage of the discounts. Rutigliano said there were also worries that if discount chain stores such as Costco were allowed to start selling liquor, they could wield influence over the marketplace and the choice of liquor distributors in Connecticut could be reduced due to lack of competition.
“I’m glad this time around they’re talking, allowing people who are involved in the industry to put forth their opinions, and not dictate how the booze business should be,” he said.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)