House bill would partially privatize Pennsylvania liquor sales system
HARRISBURG — A House committee on Tuesday approved a proposal for a public-private liquor sales system as an alternative to the completely privatized model sought by the House majority leader.
The hybrid is a serious proposal that "has, possibly, a chance of passing this House and possibly the Senate," said Rep. Scott Petri, R-Bucks County, a committee member.
"I think it has a shot at getting a little momentum," said House Liquor Control Committee Chairman John Taylor, R-Philadelphia, who called the plan the first liquor-store privatization bill to move out of legislative committee since Prohibition.
His proposal would keep the Liquor Control Board and allow state stores to continue selling liquor and wine. The stores would be the only place selling liquor.
But the legislation would add 1,200 "enhanced distributor" licenses that would allow beer distributors and others who pay $50,000 for a license to sell beer and wine. Taylor said the stores would compete with the LCB on wine sales.
Grocery stores would be able to buy a wine and beer license, provided they sell alcohol in a separate area. Bars, restaurants and anyone else with a beer license also could sell a customer up to 30 beers at a time.
Wholesale wine licenses would sell for $100 million each, half the price of a casino license. Taylor said he arrived at that figure by asking several groups what they would pay for a license to sell wine to retailers and then adding a few million.
Wendell W. Young IV, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1776 in Philadelphia that represents state store clerks, said he expects large conglomerates would be willing to pay for those licenses.
Young said building a parallel liquor system "creates an unfair playing field" for private retailers that will lead to state stores closing, job layoffs and a reduction in state revenue.
He called the committee's action a "clear and precise defeat for (Rep. Mike) Turzai's privatization offensive."
Turzai, the Republican majority leader from Bradford Woods, authored the bill (H.B. 11) that Taylor amended. Turzai's bill would have auctioned off the state stores and wholesale licenses for a totally private system. It has been pending since July.
Turzai said the committee vote's is an acknowledgment the state store system is broken.
"This is a huge step for Pennsylvania consumers," Turzai said. "Time and time again, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board has proven how antiquated and out of touch the current system is -- Pennsylvanians understand this and want change.
"The time has come to get government out of the alcohol business."
But Taylor said he envisions dozens of amendments on the House floor. Some amendments will likely propose the type of privatization free market lawmakers envisioned. Turzai would like to do that as soon as possible, said Taylor, who had concerns about eliminating up to 4,000 state jobs under the Turzai bill.
"I was certainly never in favor of a radical dismantling of the state system," Taylor said.
Gov. Tom Corbett has said he supports privatizing the state store system.
A separate amendment was added to H.B. 11 that:
• Expands state stores' Sunday hours to 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
• Allows more state stores to open on Sundays
• Allows the LCB to offer a coupon and reward program
• Allows the LCB to avoid going through the state procurement code
• Gives the LCB flexibility in pricing
The committee approved the overall bill along party lines on a 15-10 vote.
The hybrid system is similar to the way liquor is sold in Ontario and Virginia, committee officials said. The exact number of states using this model was not immediately available.
"This measure does nothing to address the dangerous conflict of interest that sees government selling both the ailment and cure at the same time, all on the taxpayer dime," said Jay Ostrich, director of public affairs for the Commonwealth Foundation. "It's time government stops creating more problems by picking wine winners and liquor losers, because taxpayers and consumers are tired of picking up the tab."
The free-market think tank endorses the full removal of government from the wine and liquor sales business, arguing it would create jobs, save taxpayer money, remove government from costly conflict of interest arrangements and allow consumers to buy what they want at a fair price.
Taylor said his plan lessens the conflict by moving alcohol education efforts from the LCB to the Office of Drug and Alcohol Education at the Department of Health.
His bill keeps state taxes on alcohol including the so-called Johnstown Flood tax.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Pirates pound Padres for 7th consecutive victory
- Steelers’ defense unfazed by noise, believes in potential
- Overhaul possible for West Mifflin’s Century III Mall
- Dormont man missing since Wednesday found dead at Station Square
- Penguins notebook: After reinterpreting rule, draft pick sought for Bylsma’s hiring
- Police: Man riding bike in New Kensington strikes truck, dies
- Starkey: NHL playoffs suddenly sublime
- Burglars strike 3 businesses in Hempfield plaza
- 24 teachers put on New Kensington-Arnold School District furlough list
- LaBar: Future of Rusev in WWE critical
- Former Ford City superintendent charged with killing family member in Texas