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Plan would keep Pennsylvania sole liquor wholesaler

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Thursday, June 20, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

One way or another, Pennsylvania gets paid.

A liquor privatization bill state Sen. Charles McIlhinney Jr., R-Doylestown, proposed would allow private companies to sell wine and spirits but would preserve Pennsylvania's role as the state's sole wholesaler. So, before a customer buys a bottle of wine from a local business, the business owner first would buy that bottle from the state, under McIlhinney's proposal.

The measure would preserve the Liquor Control Board's place as the country's largest single purchaser of wine and spirits. All the state's wine and liquor would continue to flow through the PLCB's warehouses in Blawnox, Philadelphia and Taylor.

It would keep a steady stream of money flowing into the state's bank account, said Gail Reinard, executive director of the Law and Justice Committee, which McIlhinney chairs. Details are still being drafted, she said.

The state's wholesale monopoly “is valuable,” Reinard noted.

In the 2011-12 fiscal year, when tight budget constraints sparked bitter budget fights, the state Treasury took in about $500 million from the Liquor Control Board, more than $400 million of which came through liquor and sales taxes. The board transferred $80 million to the general fund, according to Treasury figures.

“You don't want to completely blow up that system,” Reinard said. McIlhinney's bill aims to preserve — and even increase — that $80 million by maintaining state government's role as middleman between the global wine and spirits industry and drinkers.

A closed market could lock in higher prices for consumers, opponents of McIlhinney's bill worry.

“We wouldn't tell McDonald's they can only buy hamburger patties from Burger King and then expect that consumers will get a fair price,” said Rep. Mike Reese, R-Mt. Pleasant Township.

State Capitol reporter Brad Bumsted contributed to this report. Mike Wereschagin is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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