Pennsylvania liquor bill not a certainty

pwcover0113The liquor issue in Pennsylvania looked like a shoe-in for Republicans this year.

Until it didn’t.

After years of fights in the Capitol between governmental, union, nonprofit and private groups, many believed the House passage of a GOP-favored vote to privatize the liquor industry was finally ready to sail through the full Legislature.

A confusing piece of legislation, much of the House debate came across as partisan and rushed. There were questions like: What would happen to the 5,000 UFCW state store employees? The revenue the booze business brings into the state? Would an increase in liquor sales put “booze on every block” as some politicians fear? Much of that was overlooked as the bill passed largely along party lines and went to the Senate.

Now, it seems as though an even newer bill will be written and introduced in the Senate, making the Big Change to the PLCB anything but a certainty this year.

That new bill is being written by state Sen. Charles McIlhinney (R-Bucks). As the chairman of the Senate Law and Justice Committee, he’s a key vote on the liquor issue, and many Republicans in favor of privatization believed he’d be a holdout vote. His plan, he said, would be ready in two weeks and less confusing than the current House-approved plan lawmakers are wrestling with. Unlike the current plan, he says, his would give current all license-holders, like bars, restaurants, grocery stores with a restaurant license and beer distributors, the option to expand on the type of liquor they can sell.

McIlhinney’s bill would require a new push, including debates and votes, from the Senate and House. It’s unclear whether Republicans would be able to get that done before the Legislature retreats for its summer recess.

And with any form of privatization, McIlhinney is unlikely to get the 23 Senate Democrats on board with his idea. Democrats have been opposed to the bill since the beginning, being as it would eliminate 5,000 union jobs and obliterate a large source of income from the state government. Like many ideas pushed by Republicans, both in Pennsylvania and nationally, part of the motivation behind liquor privatization seems to be to bleed the government of resources so it can, so to speak, drown in a bathtub.

All polling on this issue for the past 11 years has shown the public ready and willing to privatize the system. That is, until a recent Franklin and Marshall poll released a poll in April showing—for the first time ever—a majority of Pennsylvanians no longer support privatizing the liquor industry.

“When times are tough, it’s hard for anyone to hate on somebody else that’s trying to earn a living,” says State Rep. Brian Sims (D-Philadelphia). “And I think what people realized is that part of this bill is meant to be a union buster … I think people saw there was malice in this bill.”

In the past, Sims has told PW and others that if we were writing the Pennsylvania constitution today, of course we wouldn’t have the state controlling the alcohol business. But here we are—and, he says, the system works.

On the Senate side, members of the Philadelphia delegation agree. “No new people will get hired,” says State Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia). “And at the same time, the 5,000 [UFCW workers], the tax-paying citizens getting benefits, they’re done. They’re out. What happens to them is, they lose a job.”

Oddly, Susquehanna Polling and Research, the Republican-affiliated firm which embarrassed itself with ridiculous Pennsylvania polling numbers during the 2012 election, often showing Mitt Romney leading Barack Obama, released their own poll this week. And—surprise!—they found a majority (55 percent) want to privatize the system.

The Pennsylvania Democratic party released a damning and hilarious statement about the poll.

“Susquehanna Polling & Research is one of America’s worst polling firms and any poll from them should not just be viewed skeptically but laughed off entirely. Their work in 2012 made them a laughingstock and any news outlet that print the results of these polls are doing a great disservice to their audience,” they said.

(Sorry, audience.)

Rather than privatization, Democrats have put their focus on what they call “modernization,” which would allow residents to get liquor shipped directly to their homes, among other things. As state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler) noted at the Pennsylvania Leadership Conference this year, though, Republicans should view any call for modernization as one for the status quo.

Other than the jobs, legislators in less well-to-do parts of the state worry expanding and privatizing liquor sales could have detrimental effects on their communities.

“I’m very fearful of booze on every corner in every community,” adds Hughes. “That would be, for a city that is distressed as Philadelphia is, that has some of the highest levels of poverty of any city in the nation, to have more alcohol available in these distressed communities, that is not what people are looking for.”

Follow Randy on Twitter: @RandyLoBasso

9 Responses to “ Pennsylvania liquor bill not a certainty ”

  1. Albert Brooks says:

    Senator Hughes is confused. First, there aren’t 5000 people that work for the PLCB, its 4400 and of those a third are part time and all would not be losing their jobs. He should know this in his position. Second, there aren’t enough licenses in the entire state to put a liquor store of any kind on every corner in Philly. A Senator should be able to come up with his own talking points and not have to steal the unions……it makes it too obvious who is calling the shots. Third, it took 32 years to “modernize” from counter stores to self service. At the rate they are going it will take over 100 years to “modernize” to Fine Wine & Good Spirits unless they keep closing stores at the rate they have been for the last decade or so. There were 692 stores in 2000 and according to the testimony this week there are 596 now.

    Privatization IS Modernization

  2. Bfiedler says:

    Modernization is what consumers want and anyone that thinks the PLCB is not capable of modernization is wrong! This article hits the nail on the head when it talks about malice and union busting!

    Modernize not privatize is the right thing to do!

  3. lfergherr says:

    To me, it looks as though the Governor and his buddies are trying to sell off or get rid of everything in PA that is making a profit, I don’t know why anyone would sell off a gold mine like the liquor stores unless there is malice involved or it will benefit his friends some way.
    Don’t be surprised if Corbett just sells the liquor industry overseas without telling anyone till its too late!

  4. M. R. Birkos says:

    Mr. FAKENAME Brooks’ comments are not germane to anything. Never were. PLCB’s sales, profits and customer satisfaction are all on a strong multi-year upward trend.

    Demographics change. The PLCB locates and relocates stores like any other business; with an eye toward enhancing customer service AND profits for the taxpayer.

    The House Republicans shoved their bill through – without a single Democrat’s vote – just to help the governor’s wretched standing in the polls, as they have to run with him this election. (And it did not help the governor at all!) The Senate, under no such constraints, is doing their due diligence, as befitting any proposal to divest the state of a multi-billion dollar public asset.

    Senator McIlhinney has realized there is no cash windfall. He does not want prices to rise, and no other state ever made significant money when they privatized. Also, no other state charges more than a couple hundred to a couple grand for a carry-out liquor license.

    Polls also show that a vast majority of Pennsylvanians place liquor at the bottom of legislative priorites. They want jobs – which is why the Senate’s transportation bill is so important. That – and Pennsylvania is 49th in the nation in bridge safety. Will 105 House Republicans stand in the way of fixing our deteriorating infrastructure? One House Republican actually said votes for transportation would be easy to get if the Senate would privatize liquor. Are they talking about trading beer in Sheetz for a crumbling bridge? I find that appalling.

  5. lfergherr says:

    Awesome point! Anyone can see what is going on here!

  6. Albert Brooks says:

    They may not be germane in your opinion but they are all true. Since I’m not a clerk maybe I’m not as biased as you. Don’t let those internet aliases cause another breakdown Mike.

  7. L.Spindler says:

    Yes Albert Brooks and you sir have always just been a disgruntled employee who was forced out of your job as a part-time clerk due to the fact that you were hard to get along with and the customers thought you were kind of creepy. Just curious R.K did you ever wonder why women in the store always shied away from you? Some of the women even had a nickname for you which was “Lurch”. Also much discussion went on about getting rid of you while you WERE employed by the PLCB in Southern York County. Seems the PLCB does have standards and clearly you were not it. So now I see you spend your lonely days trolling the internet complaining about your EX employer . The sad part is you did have friends at the PLCB. (I was surprised as you must be right now about the for mentioned fact but never less it is true) The keyword is DID most ,if not all now know what you have been doing and what you really think about them . Some did even give you kudos He knew his whiskeys most would say then others said “He really sucked at wine knowledge”. Please let me also share this tidbit:) Much discussion went on about getting rid of you while you WERE employed by the PLCB in Southern York County. But to mostly everyone’s delight you finally quit! So why don’t quit using your fake name and start using your real one?

  8. Albert Brooks says:

    And take away your fun? No, I think not – continue with whatever you want, it doesn’t bother me. Of course, there is no Spindler that works for the PLCB so I guess one should wonder about your too. As they say, carry on. I know I will.

  9. John Russell says:

    I grew up in Pennsylvania but left in the seventies like so many others because of greater opportunities elsewhere. Every time I come back and go in to a state store I cringe. The wine selection and the lack of service are so bad as to be hard to believe. I live in Florida now and can get great wine at competitive prices just about anywhere…and get this, I can also buy beer and liquor at the same convenient location. To recap-better prices, better availability, better service, and more convenient. I appreciate that evolution in business ends some jobs and creates others. More importantly, should the entire population of one of the largest states in the country be inconvenienced so that 4400 people keep their jobs? In the real world, consumers change, businesses change and we all adapt. I started in the steel business, just like my dad…if I hadn’t adapted I would still be unemployed. Change the law and move in to the 21st century.

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