During a hearing today before the Connecticut Senate General Law Committee, the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) submitted testimony in support of H.B. 5306, which would extend cocktails to-go from restaurants and bars with a food purchase, and in opposition to H.B. 6101, a bill that would allow the sale of wine in grocery stores.
H.B. 5306 – Cocktails To-Go
The testimony on H.B. 5306, submitted by DISCUS Senior Vice President of State Government Relations Jay Hibbard, highlighted the important revenue cocktails to-go creates for hospitality businesses suffering under the harsh economic impacts of COVID-19.
“The hospitality industry, which represents tens of thousands of jobs across Connecticut’s eight counties, has been one of the most impacted during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Hibbard said about H.B. 5306. “Job losses have been in the thousands, and many long-established restaurants have closed their doors permanently. The temporary approval of cocktails to-go has provided a meaningful source of revenue to the many struggling hospitality businesses across the state, and extending those privileges will help these businesses recover while providing increased consumer convenience.”
H.B. 5306 would extend the sale of cocktails to-go for a period of three years after enactment. Under the legislation, cocktails to-go must be in sealed containers, appropriately labeled and placed in the trunk or non-passenger compartments of a vehicle.
Currently, more than 30 states plus the District of Columbia are allowing restaurants and/or bars to sell cocktails to-go, bottled spirits to-go or both. Iowa and Ohio have both made cocktails to-go permanent, and more than 20 other states are considering doing the same.
H.B. 6101 – Wine in Grocery Stores
In his testimony opposing H.B. 6101, Hibbard noted that allowing wine in grocery stores would greatly harm Connecticut’s package stores, putting many of them out of business and threatening local jobs.
“Allowing grocery stores to sell wine would have a negative impact on Connecticut package stores, driving many of them out of business,” Hibbard said. “As foot traffic in Connecticut package stores is reduced, fewer people will purchase spirits when they can easily buy beer and wine in grocery stores. When sales go down, that lost revenue must be made up, and spending reductions would come in the form of fewer employees.”
Hibbard also noted the reduction in spirits sales in the state could lead to a nearly $1 million decrease in tax revenue for Connecticut.
“In Tennessee, which made a similar change in 2016, package stores sales went down more than 9 percent, and the state lost $3.6 million in tax revenue,” Hibbard said of H.B. 6101. “We project Connecticut would realize similar negative effects because the spirits excise tax rate is so much higher than the wine tax rate. Thus, any policy that favors wine over spirits is simply not a good business proposition for the Connecticut Treasury. The lost spirits sales would cause Connecticut to lose nearly $1 million in net tax revenue.”