As a state government shutdown looms, comparisons between what may happen in 2017 and what happened during Maine’s last government shutdown in 1991 are everywhere. There will be one certain difference, though: Liquor will still be available for sale when the government will likely shut down Saturday.
In the event of the shutdown, all state employees who are not working jobs deemed “essential services” will be sent home. LePage released a partial plan for the shutdown Thursday afternoon. Law enforcement agencies, state parks, state psychiatric hospitals, information technology workers and the ferry service will be open and working. In the 1991 shutdown, liquor stores were closed, as were state parks.
In 1991, Maine operated all 70 liquor stores in the state, and the employees of those stores were considered state employees. For 16 days, all 70 stores closed in July 1991. This covered the Fourth of July and a portion of the tourist season — the state’s second largest industry at the time in Maine. Residents could still purchase wine and beer at restaurants and stores, but hard liquor could only be bought at state-run liquor stores.
David Heidrich, director of communications for the Department of Administrative and Financial Services, said Maine residents should see “no impact” purchasing any type of alcohol during the potential shutdown.
“Today, 100 percent of the stores that sell distilled spirits (vodka, gin, rum, tequila, whiskey, etc.) are agency liquor stores that are privately owned,” Heidrich said.
Pricing of spirits products for July and August has already been completed, Heidrich said. Heidrich also said it is his understanding that Pine State Trading Co. will be fulfilling orders during the shutdown.
“It is business as usual, as far as Maine consumers of spirits are concerned,” Heidrich said.
Today, liquor stores are no longer operated by the state. In 2004, three companies, Martignetti COs., Pine State Trading Co. and Lindsay Goldberg and Bessemer, partnered to sign a 10-year liquor contract. In 2014, the contract was renewed with Pine State Trading Co. of Augusta.
The change in operation of liquor stores — going from state operated to licensed — allowed the state to balance the 2003-2004 fiscal year budget, according to a May 11, 2004 story by the Bangor Daily News. The state received a $125 million one-time payment by June 30, 2004 — the budget contract deadline — from the three companies contracted.
Before 2004, the state of Maine earned $26 million annually in liquor sales. The state earned $190 million over the 2004 to 2014 contract period — not including the $125 million payment. That breaks down to about $19 million dollars annually in liquor sales.
The current contract, from 2014 to 2024, is expected to create $450 million of revenue for Maine over the 10-year period.