A protectionist whine

In January, the state’s Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission suspended the licenses for several days of Total Wine in Everett and Natick, outlets run by the country’s largest alcohol retailer, Total Wine & More.

Were the stores caught selling booze to underage customers? No. Their grave offense was offering a good deal on name-brand rum and vodka.

State law prohibits liquor stores from selling their wares for less than what they paid for them. Total Wine says the law amounts to a protectionist racket for liquor stores that hurts consumers, and the company filed suit on Monday in Suffolk Superior Court challenging the law.

According to today’s Boston Globe account of the case, regulators argue that “banning ultra-low prices helps curb excessive drinking” and also helps protect small “mom-and-pop” package stores from the heavy pricing discounts that large retailers could offer.

The first argument seems like pretty weak beer, as those solely interested in loading up on booze with which to get loaded are already going for the cheap off-brand bottles, not slightly-marked-down Smirnoff’s vodka or Bacardi rum. The law really is about protecting the established liquor industry, one of the biggest lobbying forces on Beacon Hill.

But is there really any rationale for pricing regulation that protects operators in one particular industry at time when so many areas of the economy are being remade, whether by apps like Uber and Airbnb or by the emergence of giant retailers?

For all the complaints about Home Depot driving neighborhood hardware stores out of business, no one proposed state price regulations on the cost of hammers or light bulbs. Nor has the state lowered the boom on Costco for the low prices it offers on toilet paper if you buy 30 rolls at a time or boneless chicken breasts in a 10-pound package.

The suit by Total Wine doesn’t appear to actually challenge the entire basis for the law. Instead, the company seems to be arguing that the discount pricing it offers reflects lower overall costs it eventually records when subsequent volume discounts are factored in. In that way, the company says, it is not actually selling products below cost.

State officials say it’s improper to argue that a retailer’s cost is based on future anticipated discounts, not the actual costs shown on an invoice.

The bigger question seems to be why we maintain these elaborate pricing laws at all.

–MICHAEL JONAS


BEACON HILL

A bill hiking stipend pay along with a Senate rules proposal could let members of that chamber collect three of the dramatically increased leadership stipends on top of their base pay. (CommonWealth) A Herald editorial slams the Senate move to allow members to collect the extra leadership stipends.

A “silver tsunami” of retirements among state workers threatens to push costs up as a tight labor market forces up wages to attract replacement employees. (Boston Herald)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera’s order barring casual dress, requiring ties in the office, and eliminating free-parking at meters around City Hall is tossed out by a hearing officer for the state Department of Labor Relations. The hearing officer held that Rivera should have negotiated those changes with the union representing the workers. (Eagle-Tribune)

Worcester Mayor Joseph Petty apologizes after an open mic picked up his comment that protesters disrupting a city council meeting were morons. (Telegram & Gazette) T&G columnist Dianne Williamson offers an entertaining look at the politics of immigration in Worcester.

The Crowne Plaza hotel building in Pittsfield owes more than $250,000 in property and utility taxes and is facing foreclosure. (Berkshire Eagle)

Dighton selectmen fired the suspended fire chief who is awaiting trial on criminal charges for allegedly misusing his clothing allowance for thousands of dollars in personal purchases, including women’s workout clothes. (Taunton Gazette)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch was a conservative, but congenial, presence at Harvard Law School, say his classmates there. (Boston Globe) Alan Dershowitz tees up the perfect question for senators to pose to strict originalist Gorsuch: “Does he believe that Senate Republicans acted constitutionally and properly in preventing President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, from receiving a hearing or an up and down vote?” (Boston Globe)

Rex Tillerson is confirmed as the secretary of state on a 56-43 vote, the highest level of opposition in history for a secretary of state nominee. (New York Times)

Republicans suspended their own rules requiring a Democratic presence to push Trump’s nominations of US Rep. Tom Price as Health Secretary and Steven Mnuchin as Treasury Secretary to the full Senate for confirmation votes. (U.S. News & World Report)

You may be shocked to learn this, but President Trump’s recent phone conversations with the president of Mexico and prime minister of Australia were not exactly warm getting-to-know-you introductions, as the president reportedly unloaded on both leaders and threatened some sort of invasion of Mexico. (Boston Herald) Trump told Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto that he was prepared to send troops to his country to deal with “bad hombres down there.” (Associated Press)

Apparently, Trump’s infamous orange mane is chemically enhanced. (New York Times)

Twitter employees donated $1.59 million to the American Civil Liberties Union in the wake of Trump’s immigration order. (Buzzfeed)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Donald Trump’s plan to blow-up the Food and Drug Administration and deregulate its drug approval process is “a solution in search of problem,” say everyone from pharmaceutical industry officials to consumer advocates. (STAT)

Trump took credit when the Dow Jones Industrial Average hit 20,000 last week but is now being tagged with a “Trump Slump” as stock prices plummet in reaction to the chaos coming out of the White House. (U.S. News & World Report)

Fall River Mayor Jasiel Correia launched a $100,000 branding campaign for the city, retiring the old slogan “We’ll Try” and rolling out the new, if borrowed, “Make It Here.” (Herald News)

The Gorton’s fisherman is back in social media ads pitching the Gloucester food company. (Gloucester Times)

Rhode Island officials have agreed to a $16 million settlement with the final defendant in the suit over Curt Schilling’s failed 38 Studios company. (Associated Press)

EDUCATION

A 15-year-old was arrested after allegedly firing a shot at another teen inside the Boston School Department headquarters in Dudley Square. (Boston Herald)

A district school in Lowell and a charter school in Cambridge receive top honors at a State House ceremony recognizing the state’s top schools. (Lowell Sun)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Howard Grant, the president and CEO of Lahey Health, pitches local care in community hospitals. Lahey was in the news this week after announcing it is exploring a merger with Beth Israel Deaconess. (Gloucester Times)

TRANSPORTATION

An internal email that state Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said was sent in error indicates the initial phase of the South Coast Rail project would run through Middleboro rather than the proposed route through Stoughton. (State House News Service) The potential rerouting is adding confusion for discussions about a proposed Buzzards Bay link. (Cape Cod Times)

Commuter rail riders push back against plans to add more stops on evening Worcester-to-Boston service. (Telegram & Gazette)

CASINOS

Steve Wynn, who is building a casino in Everett, has been named the new finance chairman of the Republican National Committee. (MassLive)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

A well-known Quincy real estate mogul and close confidant of Mayor Thomas Koch pled guilty in federal  court to scamming investors out of at least $9.5 million, though prosecutors said it was more than double that. (Patriot Ledger) The Globe’s Sacha Pfeiffer has a fascinating look at Daniel Flynn’s long and winding road to ignominy.

Prosecutors say the widow of the gunman who killed 49 people at a nightclub in Orlando last year knew in advance of his plan. (New York Times)

A standoff between prisoners and guards at a Delaware prison ends with the death of an employee taken hostage. (New York Times)

MEDIA

Entercom, the parent company of WEEI-FM and a number of other radio stations in the region, bought its competitor the Sports Hub, WBZ-AM, and other CBS stations in a deal that gives the company a near-monopoly in the region. (Boston Herald)

The New York Times reports a lower operating profit in the fourth quarter but a 276,000 increase in digital subscribers.

Boston Herald columnist Howie Carr takes a screenshot of a tweet put out by Assistant Attorney General Claire Masinton with the tagline #FuckDonaldTrump. Carr tweeted that he wants to report Masinton to Attorney General Maura Healey’s hate crime hotline.