In a move that could change Connecticut's liquor landscape, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy will propose allowing Sunday sales of alcohol at package stores and beer at supermarkets.
The change must be approved by the state legislature, which has repeatedly rejected the idea over the years.
Malloy has changed his position from last year on the highly controversial and heavily lobbied issue. He had said that he would sign a bill for Sunday sales if it was passed by the legislature, but he would not take any positive actions to make that happen. As such, Malloy remained on the sidelines last year, and the bill failed once again.
The difference this year would be a proposal - with the strong backing of the governor's office - to change the long-running state law. The bill's chances of approval will now improve immensely because many members of the Democratic-controlled legislature routinely vote to approve proposals by the Democratic governor.
Carroll Hughes, the chief lobbyist for the Connecticut Package Stores Association, stresses that the prohibition on Sunday is a state liquor law, not a "blue'' law. The blue laws were outlawed in Connecticut more than 30 years ago, allowing the sales of automobiles and numerous other consumer products on Sundays.
Some insiders expected that Sunday alcohol sales would be approved last year because of Malloy's pledge to sign the bill. But Hughes said that Malloy had kept his word in remaining on the sidelines during last year's battle. As such, the package stores lobby was able to beat back the bill in the same way as in the past.
Malloy's senior adviser, Roy Occhiogrosso, said that Malloy made his decision after reviewing the liquor laws and practices in surrounding states of New York and Massachusetts.
"What's driving his perspective on this is that same issue of keeping Connecticut competitive with other states,'' Occhiogrosso told Capitol Watch on Friday afternoon. "For too long, Connecticut just stopped competing. He's doing this for the consumers as well.''
Before deciding how much the state income tax and other taxes would be increased last year, Malloy checked the tax rates in New York and other states. He repeatedly mentioned that analysis during the months leading up to the tax increase - saying that he wanted to keep a lower marginal income tax rate than states like New York and New Jersey.
Malloy will make his announcement on changes in the alcohol laws at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at Enfield town hall - just down the street on Route 5 from the Massachusetts border. Town hall is also within walking distance of a package store owned by Dominic Alaimo, one of the most outspoken proponents of Sunday sales. Another proponent, Jay Hibbard of Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, known as DISCUS, will be at Saturday's press conference.
Malloy is also considering proposing to allow the package stores to remain open until 10 p.m., rather than the current latest closing time of 9 p.m. The package stores currently have the option to remain open until 9 p.m., but some close at 8 p.m. Supermarkets, by contrast, are always open until 9 p.m.
Malloy's proposals have been percolating in recent months as his staff has studied the issue.
"We've been meeting with the governor's staff over the last couple of months,'' Hughes told Capitol Watch on Friday. "I spoke to the governor in October, and he said everything would be on the table - on different aspects of the industry. Our concern was we didn't want to be the only one on the table. It's a very structured and very controlled industry. We only sell three items - beer, wine, and liquor. The food stores sell 5,000 [items].''
He added, "We were open five or six years ago on Sunday when Christmas and New Year's fell on a Monday. ... We were supposed to do $1 million [in additional state tax revenue] when we went from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. But my people say we did nothing. ... We know there are days when we could open, but 52 [Sundays] is too many. It artificially increases the store expenses. ... If we lose 300 stores, we are losing 1.5 jobs per store. There is a cascading.''
He noted that consumers who previously came in 10 minutes before the package stores closed at 8 p.m. now come in 10 minutes before the store closes at 9 p.m. It did not increase the overall sales, he said. Massachusetts has 7,000 people per store, and Connecticut has about 3,300 people per store, he said.
Hughes noted that he is not aware of the full extent of Malloy's proposal, which will not be revealed by the governor's office until Saturday. Hughes said the package stores are open to changes as long as they will save jobs and keep the stores open.
"I've found the governor to be a very reasonable person,'' Hughes said. "We all have our roles here. Me, too.''
Hughes said that some package store owners are recent arrivals from Pakistan and India - and are trying to become successful for their children in America.
"The father is working 70-some hours to make sure that kid makes it,'' he said.
After intense lobbying on both sides last year, the issue was blocked once again as a key committee avoided a direct vote on changing the law. The lack of action by the general law committee was important because bills under the committee's authority needed to be acted upon by the committee's deadline.