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.
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