Liquor Privatization Bill Approved in Committee – But There are Problems
The state House Liquor Control Committee this morning approved House Bill 11, the liquor privatization bill authored by Majority Leader Mike Turzai, and it will now go to the full House for a vote. This marks the first time since 1933, when the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board was established, a “privatization” bill has made it out of committee, let alone come up for a vote.
The bill was originally written to privatize the state’s liquor stores and began gaining momentum when then-candidate Tom Corbett announced he’d make eliminating the PLCB a priority as governor.
The version of House Bill 11 passed this morning includes reforms for beer sales by distributors, taverns and restaurants—including allowing distributors to sell wine and beer. Private wine wholesalers will be allowed to sell products directly to Commonwealth customers, as well.
However, Fine Wine and Spirits shops will remain open, will be owned by the still-existing PLCB, and will remain the only place in the Commonwealth you can buy liquor. That doesn’t sit well with some.
“What we’re seeing here again is the government picking wine winners and liquor losers all to the detriment of the taxpayers,” says Commonwealth Foundation director of public affairs Jay Ostrich. “I would say the other thing that this measure fails to do is address this dangerous conflict of interest of selling the ailment and the cure all at the same time. We believe very strongly that its time the government stops creating more problems.”
The Commonwealth Foundation, a Harrisburg-based free market think tank, has upped its fight against the Liquor Control Board in recent years. They’ve even created a website dedicated to this very issue, called Let Freedom Drink.
Pennsylvanians approve getting the state out of the alcohol business completely by an almost 2-1 margin. And many believed this bill would dissolve the PLCB completely, which it does not.
Rep. Turzai’s office did not immediately respond to PW’s calls for comment.
He told a mid-state Fox affiliate, “Today, the House Liquor Control Committee acknowledged the current State Store system is broken and beyond repair. This is a huge step for Pennsylvania consumers…Time and time again, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) 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.”
Ostrich hopes the bill can be re-written with the encouragement of the governor.
“We’re really hoping that the governor will stay true to his words and continue to support removing government from the booze business. If he does that, hopefully we’ll be able to see some lawmakers go back to the drawing board and get it right,” he says. “There are far too many lawmakers who are willing to sacrifice the freedoms of Pennsylvanians on the alter of self-interest. They’ve been lobbied hard from many angles to make sure we keep the status quo. Unfortunately it seems like they’re unable to hear the voices of the…public who wants the government out of the booze business.”