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WATCHBLOG: Liquor privatization bill to be introduced March 4

By   /   February 20, 2013  /   3 Comments

HARRISBURG – House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, is circulating a legislative memo to gather signatures in support of his soon-to-be-introduced liquor privatization measure that would shutter the state-owned liquor stores as the only place where Pennsylvanians can buy booze.

The bill will be introduced on March 4 as HB 790.

PRIVATIZATION PUSH: House Majority Leader Mike Turzai will introduce a bill on March 4 to shut the state liquor stores in favor of private retailers.

The bill “will provide consumers in Pennsylvania with greater selection, better prices, and more convenient access to wine, spirits and beer,” according to Turzai.

His plan would allow grocery stores and pharmacies to sell 6-packs of beer and bottles of wine, convenience stores to sell 6-packs of beer and so-called “big box retail stores” like Wal-Mart to sell bottles of wine and beer by the case.

Licensing fees for those establishments would range from $10,000 annually to $35,000 annually, depending on the type of store.

Beer distributors, which can currently sell beer by the case and keg only, would be allowed to purchase an additional license for $150,000 to gain the ability to sell wine and 6-packs of beer.

Finally, there would be 1,200 licenses auctioned off to create private liquor stores, and beer distributors would be able to bid for those licenses to become a one-stop shop for beer, wine and hard alcohol.

The proposal also ensures the licenses would be auctioned by county and would ensure there would be at least as many private liquors in each county as there are currently state-run liquor stores.

Gov. Tom Corbett outlined the basics of the liquor privatization plan last month, but this is the first time the specifics have been put in black and white.  Corbett also proposed to use the revenue from the sale of the liquor licenses to fund a new $1 billion block grant program for school districts over four years, a proposal Turzai says he supports.

In the state Senate, Republican leaders have indicated they want to also pursue a parallel course of “modernization” that would keep the existing liquor monopoly in place but would open up some of the rules about who can sell what.

The biggest opposition to the liquor proposal will come from unions, most importantly the United Food and Commercial Workers, which represents most of the employees in the state-owned liquor stores.

Union boss Wendell Young IV said the UFCW will continue its fight to protect the jobs of its members, the revenues generated by the stores for all Pennsylvania’s taxpayers, and the communities that would be endangered by privatization.