February 1, 2013

Bill Nemitz: Booze battle looming for 2014 election

By Bill Nemitz bnemitz@pressherald.com
Columnist

(Continued from page 1)

But wait! There's more!

As an "alternative" to the state borrowing money to pay back the hospitals, Williams proposed, Maine Beverage would sweeten the mix with an upfront cash payment to cover the $186 million hospital bill.

That would proportionately reduce Maine Beverage's annual $32 million to the state, Williams noted, but it would also make the hospital bill go away without any borrowing on the state's part.

As Williams put it, "The risk (of covering the $186 million with future liquor sales) is ours."

To which LePage replied, "We must decline your offer."

Say what?

"We like the guys at Maine Beverage -- we really do. They're good guys," said Gerry Reid, director of the Maine Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages & Lottery Operations, in an interview Thursday. "It's just that they're paid more than we want to pay."

Put more simply: Now that everyone knows just what a money-maker this booze business can be, the state wants a bigger shot. A much bigger shot.

Which brings us back to the politics.

Contacted Thursday, Baldacci made no apologies for the deal he struck all those years ago. And the fact that today's numbers make the 2004 numbers look like a watered-down martini, he maintained, simply reflects what happens when government gets out of the way and lets the private sector do its thing.

(Maybe, maybe not. According to liquor bureau director Reid, the annual 2.5-to-3.5-percent growth in liquor sales under Maine Beverage lags slightly behind average sales growth among the 18 states that control their liquor markets.)

The current 10-year contract "has been a learning experience," Baldacci conceded. But what's important now, he said, is "to say, 'OK, can we do a better job at getting money out of the lease?'"

As the saying goes, yes we can.

Just as we can expect, should Baldacci end up running against LePage next year, a 15-second TV spot depicting two bottles -- a big one with "LePage" and "$380 million" stamped on its label, and a little one with "Baldacci" and "$185 million" on its label. Asks a very sober voice: "Who's the better businessman?"

Whoa ... what did I just say?

I need a coffee brandy.

 

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at:

bnemitz@pressherald.com

 

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