House Votes to Privatize Liquor in Pennsylvania — What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Last night, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed a bill that’d been pushed by Gov. Tom Corbett and House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, which seeks to “privatize” the Pennsylvania alcohol industry.

The bill, passed by a 105-90 margin,  would begin phasing out the state’s 600 liquor stores and allow grocery stores with restaurant licenses the opportunity to sell beer and wine (places fitting into this category, such as the Foodery and Wegman’s, currently only sell beer). Beer distributors would be allowed first crack at buying 1,200 liquor licenses, which will be made available thereafter. Those factors and a few more small details have been referred to as “Liquor Liberty” by the conservative, anti-union Commonwealth Foundation, which has been pushing for new free-market liquor laws over several years.

But there are problems. Liquor Liberty doesn’t take into account expanded beer sales—odd, considering one of the main arguments was that this would make Pennsylvania just like every other state. In many other states (New York, for instance), you can buy beer almost everywhere (grocery stores, corner stores, pharmacies, some of which are open 24 hours)—and that still won’t be the case in Pennsylvania once this thing goes through, assuming the Senate passes it (not guaranteed) and assuming that passage includes no amendments.

One of the common arguments against the governor’s efforts on this matter (and others) is that it’s all about union-busting. And not just because union punishment is Corbett’s bread and butter, but because in this case — like the lottery privatization attempt before it — it is.

Giving beer distributors first pick at obtaining a license for liquor and wine sales will likely mean the fantasy of making independent wine sellers a commodity in the state rare. The only guarantee is the destruction of the Wine and Spirits state stores (once a mere 100 state stores are open, all will be closed, according to the legislation). Of course, smaller, less well-to-do beer distributors will probably have trouble getting the licenses, and lose out to big box stores. As one beer distributor from Erie put it during the debate, “There’s 1,200 beer distributors across Pennsylvania, and you would put most of us out of business. Why a Republican governor would want to [do that], it’s beyond me.”

To top it off, the much-aligned Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (whose own missteps have been ruled as evidence leading to last night’s vote) would stay in place. Maybe it’s a first step toward more convenience, but the effort to actually privatize looks to have taken a backseat to breaking up an organized workforce.

Follow Randy on Twitter: @RandyLoBasso

3 Responses to “ House Votes to Privatize Liquor in Pennsylvania — What Could Possibly Go Wrong? ”

  1. Albert Brooks says:

    The author of this tripe clearly has no idea what the amended bill actually says.

    The license for beer distributors varies in cost by county class being considerable less expensive in the nether areas of the state. Plus, the state is giving them 4 years to pay for it. The bill does not change how any convenience or grocery store gets a license to sell beer. It is an “R” license with the same requirements there are now.

    Since the majority of the citizens, in every scientific poll ever taken on the subject going back almost 40 years,, have want to be rid of the PLCB state store system the legislature finally did the will of the people. Imagine doing what the majority of almost 13 million people want and not what 3500 PLCB employees want. Who’d a thought. Private stores can be organized look how well the UFCW has done with grocery stores, there actually are a few still in business. Since the UFCW has 20,000+ members it is hardly union busting as much as some would like to see that or as much as some would like to call it so.

    Of course the Liquor Control Board would stay in place as their job would actually be licensing and regulation. During the transition portion they would have to sell to new retail wine and spirits stores at cost. Read page 16 of the amended bill and then read the rest of it so you know what you are talking about.

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  3. Lu Anne Rubbo says:

    This bill makes absolutely no business sense for anyone, ESPECIALLY the people of PA. There are no facts but lots of rhetoric to support the break up of the PLCB. I’m all for modernization of liquor sales, but this “convenience” is an illusion. What moronic businessman (our governor) dismantles a self-sustaining business that gives a 7% annual return on investment without a plan to replace that revenue? (It’s not in this bill!)”It will fund education!” (Also not in there.)PA’s purchasing power affords consumers much LOWER prices than in other states (research it – it’s true.) Other states also have less selection — big boxes wont carry the selection, and your crafts will get considerably more expensive the fewer places you can find them (SOOO convenient!) The financial analysis done ignored many hard costs associated with dismantling the system. It’s SERIOUSLY flawed. Look at Washington state, which just did what Corbett wants one year ago. Prices are up 22% on avg., alcohol related crime is up, and deregulated states have higher public health costs from alcohol related diseases. Not to mention jeopardizing 1200 small businesses, and eliminating at least 5000 jobs. Sounds like smart business to me, and all SO good for Pennsylvania. All the big boxes are behind this, and the uninformed public are following along like lemmings.

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