Liquor Bill Dead–For Now
Don’t say you didn’t see this coming: State Rep. Mike Turzai said this morning that the liquor privatization bill is dead—for now.
“It’s clear that people are supportive of privatization. it’s common sense,” Turzai said, according to this Morning Call report. “Consumers are expecting it. But to get to the sweet spot to be able to garner the support in the house is going to take additional work. We need to talk to additional folks and hopefully we’ll be able to do a lot of that over the summer.”
The announcement is a major blow for liquor privatization advocates, who were hoping to have a bill done this year, or at least a vote. The latest bill in the House surrounding liquor privatization would have, to quote us, issued 1,600 wine and spirits licenses, the first 1,060 of which would be offered to beer distributors to make for liver-killing mega stores throughout the state. Beer distributors would also be allowed to sell 6-packs. Within five years, state liquor stores would be winded down, except in remote parts of the state. In 10 years, supermarkets would be allowed to jump into the mix. Turzai called the idea a “strong plan,” even if most aren’t entirely sure how much money would be reaped from the initial sell-off.
Today’s announcement comes as the Legislature struggles to reach its June 30 deadline to pass the Pennsylvania state budget. Groups on either side of the debate have begun weighing in on Turzai’s supposed idea to hold liquor off to the fall.
“It’s a sobering reminder of government’s inability to get out of its own way,” writes Jay Ostrich, spokesman for the conservative Commonwealth Foundation, who have lobbied heavily for a privatization bill, by email. “When broad-based bipartisan support for booting the booze bosses falls flat, there is something broken under the dome. Sadly, consumers and taxpayers will continue to vote on this issue with their feet and wallets through bootlegging, but it is only a matter of time before they will vote at the polls for or against those who stood in the way of freedom.”
On the other hand, Wendell Young IV, the head of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1776 applauded the sidelining of the bill. He noted, by phone to Philadelphia Weekly, that the House Bill “was problematic in a number of ways” and that it’s “time to focus on the modernization” — rather than destruction — of the PLCB, noting it’s “long overdue to…take the shackles off” the agency.
“It’s clear we’re going to be in this business for a while,” he said.
Similarly, Philly State Rep. Dwight Evans, an opponent of the bill, noted today that the delay of House Bill 11 is a “win for 5,000 family-sustaining jobs in Pennsylvania.”
Even if the liquor bill had passed this week, there’s no way of knowing whether it would have gotten past the Senate. A version of the bill in that body would have kept the Liquor Control Board in place, and have allowed about 22,000 stores to purchase a new $10,000 license annually from the PLCB. The Senate version – SB 1554 – then, would have allowed the PLCB to operate at the retail level, essentially competing with private industry. Sen. Chuck McIlhinney (R-Bucks), who introduced that bill, criticized Turzai’s bill saying it “takes millionaires and turns them into billionaires,” while his own “would extend the ability of our current liquor licensees to allow them to sell it by the bottle,” according to a report by PA Independent.
The PLCB has come under tons of scrutiny over the last couple years. Whether it be an ad depicting a drunk girl getting raped, or, more recently, a report which says top officials at the government agency “as having accepted gifts and favors, including wine and tickets to sporting events and golf tournaments,” according to the Inquirer.
Corbett claimed he was down with waiting until the fall, so the bill is done right.
“The fall is a better time to complete this. It allows us to work on it,” he said. “I support it wholeheartedly. It allows us to work on it through the course of the summer and come back in the fall and hopefully continue to push it then.”