AUGUSTA — Lawmakers on Tuesday reviewed draft language of a bill for the state’s next wholesale liquor contract but sidestepped the issue of how the liquor revenue would be used.

Under the initial language, the state would seek bids for a contractor to run the administration, marketing, warehousing and distribution of liquor in Maine.

The contract would not require the contractor to pay an upfront fee — an idea that had been favored by Democrats.

The proposal failed to spark much debate or opposition, except on points such as whether a $25,000 application fee would be necessary.

The Joint Standing Committee on Veterans and Legal Affairs, which is drafting the bill, plans to discuss it again next week.

“I feel very confident we can get a resolution on this very soon,” said Sen. Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon Falls.

The next liquor contract will replace the state’s 10-year deal with Maine Beverage Co. that expires in 2014. 

Under the proposed language, no bidder could have a financial interest in a business that would conflict with the state’s goal to maximize revenue. Maine Beverage Co. is partly owned by Martignetti Cos., which owns a liquor operation in New Hampshire.

Part of Maine’s strategy is to take back some liquor sales that are being lost to New Hampshire, which has lower prices than Maine.

Martignetti Cos. could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

The Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee did not discuss the more controversial aspects of the liquor contract, such as the use of the revenues. 

Gov. Paul LePage wants to use the money to pay off the state’s $186 million debt to its hospitals for Medicaid reimbursements.

That would release $298 million in payments from the federal government.

The Democrats, who have majorities in the House and Senate, want to link the repayment of hospital debt to the expansion of Medicaid.

Federal officials have indicated that Washington would cover the cost of the expansion for more than 10,000 adults.

Jessica Hall can be reached at 791-6316 or at:

jhall@pressherald.com