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    REGIONAL REPORT

    Northeast retailers battle legislation that runs contrary to their interests.

    Increased cigarette taxes haunt New Hampshire and Maine, while retailers in Connecticut are in for a 1 percent increase in lottery commissions, if only some pesky state legislators would get around to final passage of the bill. Meanwhile, a multitude of proposals energize lobbying efforts in New York State.

    Vigilance, it seems, is essential when dealing with legislation that runs contrary to your interests. John Dumais, president and CEO of the New Hampshire Grocers Association, explains.

    "Here in New Hampshire, Governor Lynch proposed a 28-cent increase in cigarette taxes, so the House and Senate both introduced bills looking for 28 cents each. One version was amended, however, to include a one- to five-cent tax on soft drinks. We managed to defeat that bill, but the other one, without the soft drink amendment, is still being held in committee and it will stay there until the final budget details are hammered out near the end of June.

    "What we're trying to do,” noted Dumais, "is explain to the legislature that even though the increase will leave New Hampshire with the lowest cigarette taxes in the region, it will still discourage some out-of-staters from making the trip here to buy cigarettes, and that will hurt the state because it will lose additional revenue from other things people buy when they get here, such as lunch, beer, wine, gas and hotel rooms."

    For the record, current cigarette taxes in New England are $1.19 in Vermont; $1.00 in Maine; $2.46 (the highest in the nation) in Rhode Island; $1.50 in New York; and $1.51 in Massachusetts. In New Hampshire it's 52 cents -- without the 28-cent increase.

    One other bill that went down to defeat in New Hampshire was a proposed increase in the minimum wage, which would have mandated a 50-cent increase in 2006 and another 50-cent increase in 2007. It remains at the federal level of $5.15.

    The New York state legislature is scheduled to adjourn on June 23, but before it does, the New York Association of Convenience Stores (NYACS) will continue to make its presence known by opposing bills that are contrary to its members' interests, i.e., bills that would require registration of non-bank-owned ATM machines; impose unfair restrictions on customer access to cold medicines containing pseudoephedrine; increase the tobacco purchase age from 18 to 19; and impose a state-wide standard of 98 percent pricing accuracy for scanning and manual checkouts.

    At the same time, NYACS and its beverage-industry allies are fighting a proposal to include bottled water, juice, iced tea, sports drinks and other non-carbs in the existing deposit law that now covers only beer and soda.

    Meanwhile, the New York State Convenience Store Hall of Fame recently inducted Case Marshall, vice president of Pit Stop Convenience of Weedsport, N.Y., and the late Carl Tripi of Tripifoods Inc. in Buffalo, N.Y., into its ranks. They are the Hall of Fame's 19th and 20th members.

    There's good news for Connecticut retailers, who are in for a 1 percent increase in lottery commissions effective October 1 of this year if final legalization goes through. After receiving unanimous approval in both the Public Safety and Finance Committees, the bill has been sent to the House where it awaits a vote.

    Of concern is the fiscal impact statement that projects a $9 to $10 cost to the state as a result of the 1 percent commission increase. The question is whether the lottery should pay for the increase from operating revenues or from a change in the prize payout. The New England Convenience Store Association (NECSA) is arguing for the cost to be taken from an adjustment in the prize money paid out, rather than from general revenues.

    Connecticut also has a new minimum wage law. In 2006, the minimum wage will increase to $7.40 from its present $7.10, and move to $7.65 in 2007. The law is waiting the governor's signature.

    Last year, the Maine legislature delivered a double whammy to the state's tobacco retailers: First, it changed the one-time tobacco license fee of $25 to an annual fee. And then it upped it to $50.

    Now, the legislature is making it a triple whammy with a proposal to raise the fee to $100. The New England Convenience Store Association has mounted a vigorous campaign to defeat it.

    Maine is also facing two bills to raise cigarette taxes. One calls for a 50-cent increase per pack and the other a one-dollar increase. Both are tied up in committees and with the legislature scheduled to adjourn in mid- or late-June, there's no way to know if either bill will come up for a vote.

    Jamie Py, president of the Maine Oil Dealers Association and its sub-division, the Convenience Store Council of Maine, hopes it dies in committee. “It will put Maine at a distinct disadvantage compared to New Hampshire with its lower cigarette tax and no sales tax, to boot,” he said. “We're working to defeat the bill.”

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