To keep education focus, Malloy compromises on liquor

Trying to keep the political focus on education reform, the administration of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy responded Monday to some of the concerns raised by wholesalers and retailers of alcohol about his sweeping proposal to overhaul liquor laws.

Revisions distributed by the administration would limit competition among retailers and retain some of the controls on pricing, while still giving retailers more flexibility to sell beer, wine and spirits more cheaply.

The changes reflect a governor more willing to compromise in his second year, especially when the price of sticking to his original plan might be a protracted fight that could draw political resources away from education reform.

“The governor understands, we all understand, there is not much time,” said Roy Occhiogrosso, the governor’s senior adviser. “There is a big education reform package that is a priority.”

The legislature’s session in even-years lasts only three months, and Malloy has seemed more attuned to legislative sentiments lately. Even before the session began, he abandoned the possibility of seeking an expanded lottery or online gaming.

“You can’t call yourself a leader and not understand how the process works in terms of the input other people have, whether they are legislators or stakeholders,” Occhiogrosso said. “You have to be able to sit down and talk to people.”

Malloy pushed through one of the most ambitious first-year agendas seen in Connecticut with relatively few changes, including a record tax increase, labor concessions and a reorganization of higher education.

He won approval of a major bioscience initiative at UConn in just three weeks.

“At times last year he was criticized for pushing too aggressively to get things done as closely to what he proposed as possible,” Occhiogrosso said.

The administration’s revisions to his liquor reforms, which were reported first by the Associated Press, were distributed a day before they are to be the subject of a public hearing before the General Law Committee.

Sunday liquor sales dominated early coverage of Malloy’s proposal, but the more significant changes to the industry revolved around loosening the state’s tight controls over price and competition.

His original plan would have introduced chain ownership, raising from two to nine the number of retail permits held by one entity. He also proposed eliminating a limit of one package store per 2,500 residents of any municipality.

He now is proposing ownership of up to six stores, while keeping the limit of one store per 2,500 residents, which will limit competition among package stores.

On price, retailers under his new proposal could not drop their prices below the actual cost of acquisition, with the exception of five monthly specials that could be sold at 10 percent below cost.

Instead of removing all restrictions on wholesalers offering quantity discounts — a change that favored large retailers — the administration now proposes to work with industry representatives and legislators on a new policy.