Since July, Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai has pushed to get government out of the liquor business.
In a news conference, the legislator from Western Pennsylvania introduced House Bill 11, which calls for the privatization of wine and spirits sales on the wholesale and retail levels.
"We need to move Pennsylvania into the 21st century," said Turzai, whose 28th Legislative District comprises Pine, Richland, Marshall and McCandless townships and Bradford Woods and Franklin Park boroughs.
"House Bill 11 is about divestiture. House Bill 11 is about the consumer. It is about reasonable prices and better selection and more convenience. It is about upgrading law enforcement," said the Republican from Bradford Woods. "It is about moving from a public sector dinosaur into the modern 21st century."
Only two states, Pennsylvania and Utah, have complete control of all aspects of wine and spirits distribution, according to a report that the governor's budget office commissioned.
"Public Financial Management Inc. was retained by the Pennsylvania Governor’s Budget Office to conduct an analysis of the current operations of thePennsylvania Liquor Control Board and assess the potential for privatization of its wine and liquor wholesale and retail operations," the executive summary from the report states.
"In the end, the decision to privatize should, at its core, come down to a consideration of what is best for all citizens of the state and the consumers the system serves," the study concluded.
"A privatized system affords the state the best opportunity to improve on the current system and optimize the financial benefits for its citizens," according to the study.
Not everyone agrees that House Bill 11 is the way to go.
"The House Liquor Control Committee passed a version of HB 11, which would leave the Liquor Control Board intact, a major turnaround from Turzai’s original proposal to completely privatize liquor sales," states a story from 90.5 FM Pittsburgh Essential Public Radio.
The union that represents state liquor store managers has lobbied against the bill; two Pennsylvania chapters of the United Food Commercial Workers, representing state store employees, also oppose the bill, the 90.5 radio story states.
"The Independent State Store Union says that the bill’s provision to allow beer distributors to begin selling wine will cause the state store system to slowly diminish," according to the story.
The ISSU also opposes the bill.
In a December news release, Rep. Dante Santoni, D-Berks, said Democrats on the House Liquor Control Committee "remain opposed to the proposal and voted against its release from committee, but we were able to temper some of the extreme provisions included in the original bill."
"I remain concerned about the direction of this bill," said Santoni, the Democratic chairman of the House Liquor Control Committee. "I believe my amendment in committee will provide modernization initiatives not included in the original legislation."
House Bill 11 originally called for the state to close and sell its wine and spirits shops and auction 1,250 retail licenses to private operators, allocated by county, according to population, Santoni's news release stated.
Taxes on liquor would be restructured, and a limited number of wholesale licenses would be issued to distributors who sign contracts with producers.
"The current version of H.B. 11 does not divest the state store system of either the wholesale or retail sales of wine and spirits but does allow for competition in the sale of wine by allowing private businesses to obtain both wholesale and retail licenses to compete with the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, or PLCB. There would be no limit on the number of licenses available," according to Santoni's statement.
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