As you can imagine, I follow Connecticut politics fairly closely, but I must admit I was caught off-guard this week when Gov. Malloy first let it slip to CTNewsJunkie that he fully supports the concept of allowing retail alcohol purchases on Sunday and that he intends to send a proposal to the legislature this year.
You might recall that when the subject was talked about in the General Assembly last year, Malloy said he supported the idea generally but would do nothing to push it along — presumably because he wanted to focus on solving the greatest fiscal crisis in a generation. As a result, the bill died in committee.
So having conquered the budget, it turns out the governor’s top priorities for the 2012 session are education and booze — two of my favorites.
On Saturday, Malloy got more specific with his proposal — and you can click here for the raw data (PDF). In addition to protecting the few (mom-and-pop package store owners) to the detriment of the many (the state’s 3.5 million consumers), Connecticut’s liquor laws are riddled with antiquated pricing regulations and restrictions on ownership.
So Malloy not only wants to do something good for the consumer (though I suspect his real motive is more tax revenue), but he also wants to reform a system of archaic regulations that date back generations.
Did you know, for example, that beer distributors in Connecticut cannot offer sales-promotion discounts to retailers (but liquor distributors may!), effectively prohibiting retailers from lowering shelf prices and forcing consumers to spend more on suds than they need to.
Did you also know that package stores are prohibited from selling anything but booze? Well, not exactly. But beyond liquor, they can’t really sell much more than cigarettes, lottery tickets, magazines and bar implements. Want some buffalo wings or bread sticks to soak up the alcohol in your stomach? You’re out of luck.
Most shockingly, state law prevents any single package store proprietor from owning more than two stores. Hey, I’m not for monopolies (truth be told, no one is except for the monopolists), but two stores? Malloy’s proposal would expand ownership laws to allow an individual to own nine stores. The economy of scales that benefit multi-store owners would no doubt have the effect of lowering prices for consumers.
My guess is these stupid laws date back to the repeal of prohibition when there was pressure on lawmakers to regulate the hell out of the alcohol business because we had just come out of a period of lawlessness. And, as you can see from their website, those same stupid laws have the full support of the Connecticut Package Stores Association.
Not that this is a burning issue on a par with education reform or tax policy. But the more we can dispense with kooky laws, the more we can improve the culture of cronyism and blatant favoritism that pervades state government.