Pennsylvania House passes liquor store privatization plan

W. Morris Fierman

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives recently passed a measure to privatize the state’s liquor stores and sell wine and spirits permits to private vendors.

The measure, pushed for by Governor Tom Corbett, passed the house without a single Democrat voting in favor. The bill will now move to the State Senate and is likely to be heavily deliberated.

Pennsylvania is home to some of the most stringent controls on the sale of wine and spirits in the nation. The state is one of 18 to maintain a monopoly over the sale of such beverages.

“We do need to modernize our alcohol sales system and there is much we can do to accomplish that without putting 5,000 state workers out of work, putting hundreds of family-owned beer distributorships out of business, increasing alcohol-related deaths and crime and selling a state asset that generates hundreds of millions of dollars for our general fund,” Democratic State Representative Phyllis Mundy said.

Controlling the sale of wine and spirits has provided a steady source of revenue for the cash-strapped state, though Corbett has said that he believes the sale of permits to vendors as well as future taxation would balance out in the end.

Most supporters of privatization claim that controlling wine and spirits sales is not a vital state function and that the current system is outdated.

State Senator Gene Yaw, a Republican whose constituency includes the University, said in an interview with The Bucknellian that the main concern for constituents was convenience. People wishing to purchase alcohol must go to a state-run store, while in most states they can do anywhere alcohol is sold.

Mundy also agreed that her constituency was telling her that convenience was a priority. The measure passed by the House allows for beer distributors to have priority in buying the 1,200 licenses that will become available. Grocery stores, which were given the ability to sell beer in 2010, will be able to stock wine but not spirits or malt beverages.

Washington state passed a measure last year to privatize its liquor stores and consumers have noticed a significant spike in prices due to taxation by the state. Reuters reported that prices were about 10 to 30 percent higher statewide after the privatization plan was carried out.

When asked about the effect privatization would have on prices, Yaw said “I don’t know. I’ve heard both sides of the argument.”

As for the possibility of the bill passing the State Senate in its current form,  “No,” said Yaw.

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