Pennsylvania legislature passes liquor privatization bill, governor's decision awaited

The Pennsylvania state legislature passed a landmark bill late Tuesday to privatize state liquor sales. The governor has not yet made a decision on whether he will sign the legislation into law.

If Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf signs the bill, the legislation would allow grocery stores, restaurants, hotels and beer distributors to sell wine and liquor to-go. Licensed grocery stores could sell up to five bottles of wine and two bottles of liquor.

House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, told Pennsylvania Business Daily in a written statement, “With broad-based bipartisan support, Pennsylvanians have overwhelmingly asked for government to get out of a business it never had business being in. Tuesday’s historic vote will bring freedom to Pennsylvanians by returning government to its core functions and allowing adults to make consumer decisions conveniently and for themselves.”

Supporters say the plan will generate $220 million in revenues for fiscal year 2015-16; opponents say more than 4,700 jobs will be lost if the state-owned stores are closed.

Wolf’s press secretary, Jeff Sheridan, said the governor has not made a decision on signing the bill. “The governor's top priority is to reach agreement on a final budget that includes a commonsense severance tax to fund education, provides property tax relief for middle-class families and seniors and closes the budget deficit without gimmicks. The governor vetoed the Republican budget because it is not balanced, it will lead to a $3 billion deficit and the Republican budget only puts $8 million into K-12 education,” Sheridan said.

State Senator Sean Wiley, D-Erie, who voted no on the bill, said in written comments, “This privatization effort would not provide more convenience, lower prices or better service; rather, it will increase the structural deficit of this Commonwealth by ignoring the long-term revenue implications. I have long been an advocate for modernizing the PLCB system to drive consumer convenience and choice with in-demand options resulting in more revenues into the Commonwealth.”

Turzai added if Wolf signs the bill, “This also gives the governor the expanded source of revenue he has been demanding without having to increase taxes on one Pennsylvanian or instituting a job-killing tax on natural gas. For these reasons, he should take this legislation very seriously, sign it and declare victory for his agenda.”

The wine and spirits privatization legislation would end the post-Prohibition state store system put in place by Pennsylvania’s then pro-temperance governor, Gifford Pinchot. The current monopoly system was created in 1933 by Pinchot, who said the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board’s mission was to make liquor sales as inconvenient and expensive as possible. Currently, only Pennsylvania and Utah have complete control over wholesale and retail wine and liquor operations.