Sunday alcohol sales gets Malloy's support
Published 12:34 pm, Thursday, January 13, 2011
HARTFORD -- Gov. Dannel P. Malloy says he's prepared to honor a campaign promise and approve Sunday sales of alcohol in retail outlets, finally ending a Blue Law prohibition that is as old as Connecticut.
The chief opponent of the legislation was defeated in the November election, and the millions of dollars of anticipated extra tax revenue are sorely needed in this age of fiscal crisis.
But the bill has to emerge from the House and Senate and get to Malloy's desk.
Carroll J. Hughes, executive director of the Connecticut Package Stores Association, said this week he looks forward to a public hearing on the issue, because he thinks he can make the argument to retain the ban and protect small businesses from working seven days a week.
"Sunday alcohol sales is a no-brainer for me," Malloy said in an interview.
"If the Legislature passes it, I'll sign it. It's just not an issue for me. That's my position," he said. "I'm going to have to spend a lot more time advocating on behalf of budgetary discipline than anything else, so I'm not trying to pick a whole lot of issues to have my fingerprints on. I think the Legislature has a job to do, first and foremost the budget, but obviously other laws that they might want to adopt.
Thomas Colapietro, a Bristol Democrat who as the Senate chairman of the legislative General Law Committee was the major opponent to Sunday sales, lost in the November election, prompting lawmakers from near state borders to become more optimistic about the possibility of finally ending the Sunday ban on retailers.
Proponents say that Sunday has long been a major secular shopping day and that business is migrating into New York and Massachusetts for alcohol sales that are killing Connecticut businesses.
Rep. Kathy Tallarita, D-Enfield, this week filed legislation to expand the sales to Sunday. "Our state will gain millions in new revenue from Sunday alcohol sales, revenue that is badly needed as we work toward digging ourselves out of a projected large deficit," she said in a statement. "Repealing the ban is a win for everyone. It would be convenient for consumers, keep tax dollars in Connecticut and store owners would have the option to open or not."
But Hughes, who is also the lobbyist for the package store owners, who in recent years have staged lobbying events in the Capitol, said he has valid claims against international liquor retailers and their pressures against small business owners.
"The Booze Barons from London and Paris just want to sell pints and half-pints to people with drinking problems," Hughes said this week in the Capitol complex. "This is the richest market in the world and they want 24-7 sales. Anything else, they say, is a Blue Law."
Hughes disputes claims that millions of dollars in additional tax revenue would result from the expanded sales. He believes that added Sunday sales would create negligible extra revenue because the vast majority of state residents get along fine with six days to visit package stores, groceries and supermarkets where they can pick up liquor, beer and wine.
Sunday sales would mean that big-box retailers and supermarkets would gobble even more of the market, putting the 300 package stores in jeopardy, he said. If the small package stores close, it also means less work for truck drivers.
Meanwhile, problem drinkers will be able to continue their self-destructive habits on Sunday, Hughes warned. "If you're worried about buying on Sunday," Hughes said, "maybe you shouldn't be drinking at all."
Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, said this week that he opposes Sunday sales, despite the fact that the law could appear arcane in a state that's 375 years old.
"It has encouraged a lot of small businesses to start up, grow and thrive," he said, noting the state's various permits, such as the grocery permits that allow beer sales but not wine or hard liquor.
"Per-capita we have the largest number of package stores in the country because of the tiered system that we have," McKinney said. "My concern is that expanding Sunday sales would benefit the large grocery stores to the detriment of the small mom-and-pop package stores."
But McKinney said he understands the desire of people to be able to shop on Sundays. If the state moves to Sunday sales, he hopes that the law would limit stores to selling any six days of the week, preventing sales one day a week per outlet.
"I'm very cautious about doing something that is going to hurt those small package stores, given the fact that we already have unemployment at almost 10 percent," McKinney said.