HARRISBURG — Liquor sales in Pennsylvania could be one part public and one part private.
PA lawmakers push hybrid plan for liquor privatization
‘Historic’ vote in committee, but bill leaves some wanting more
By Stacy Brown | PA Independent
House Republicans set aside plans to privatize all liquor stores in favor of a hybrid blend that would allow some competition for wine sales while maintaining the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board’s long-time monopoly on liquor.
House Liquor Chairman John Taylor, R-Philadelphia, revised the original privatization bill with several amendments, which could save hundreds of unionized public jobs and allow the state to sell wholesale wine licenses for $100 million each.
“On paper, this looks to be privatization-lite,” Taylor said. “If you play it out, it’s much more significant in terms of what will happen after this is passed. I think you’ll have a hybrid approach in terms of the retail market, as well. … You’ll have mom-and-pop operations, you’ll have supermarkets with this ability to do it, and I think that’s significant enough without doing damage.”
The House Liquor Committee on Tuesday moved House Bill 11, which is expected to go to the House for consideration, but a date has not been set.
The amended bill would allow PLCB-run stores to continue selling hard liquor, such as vodka and scotch, while expanding the sale of wine and beer to beer distributors. This change would add 1,200 places for consumers to buy wine.
Under the measure, a retail license to sell wine will cost $50,000 and require a $15,000 annual renewal fee.
The amendment maintains the 30 percent markup on wine and liquor and the 18 percent Johnstown flood tax, which Turzai wanted to eliminate.
House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, who sponsored the original bill, endorsed Taylor’s amendments.
“It’s an outstanding step towards privatization,” said Turzai. “We’re going to vet that with the caucus and work with the governor to have a final product that we can run on the House floor.”
Not only is the revised proposal the first privatization bill to move out of a legislative committee since Prohibition in the early 20th century, it could avoid eliminating 620 PLCB stores and consequently laying off their 3,800 unionized state workers.
Turzai’s bill, without amendments, would have auctioned off the state stores and wholesale licenses for a totally private system as well as eliminated all jobs.
The Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, which represents 800,000 workers around the state, supported the job-saving initiative made possible through Taylor’s amendments.
“The publicly owned Pennsylvania Wine and Spirits Shops are an important asset shared by all Pennsylvanians,” Richard Bloomingdale, union president, said in a statement after the vote. “The PLCB employs 5,000 Pennsylvanians at a time when unemployment is near record levels.”
The Commonwealth Foundation, an independent conservative think tank here, said the bill fails to address what it called the inherent conflict of interest when state government serves as promoter and seller of wine and spirits while attempting to enforce laws and educate residents about dangers of drinking.
Last year, the PLCB brought $496 million to state coffers through sales taxes, liquor taxes and profit transfers.
There is no limit on the wine licenses available at the moment, but according to previous public statements, committee members expect the number to not exceed five.
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