State Sen. Chuck McIlhinney (R-20th) announced Tuesday his much-anticipated plan to privatize Pennsylvania’s liquor sales, unveiling a plan that keeps the stores open while private businesses get in the liquor business.
McIlhinney’s plan allows existing beer sellers to buy annual licenses to sell beer and wine. The state stores would remain open and be phased out over time as the private market expands.
“And in two years, when we actually have an expanded, privatized retail system, we will then valuate and put up and make a decision at that point,” said McIlhinney.
The plan does not go as far as the House’s plan, which passed earlier this year and gets the state out of the liquor business entirely.
Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi acknowledged Republicans do not have enough votes yet to pass a liquor bill. He called McIlhinney’s plan an important starting point and thought he could wrangle the votes in the next couple days.
Gov. Tom Corbett wants bills on his desk dealing with liquor control, transportation and pension reform by the June 30 budget deadline.
“Clearly there are things in the bill we can find that all of us can find that we like and things we can all find that we maybe want to change or tweak. And, I think the question is whether or not we can get to 26 (votes),” said Sen. President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R-25th).
Members of the union representing most of the state stores’ roughly 5,000 employees were at Tuesday’s announcement. Many were asked to leave the press briefing room before the event, though some were allowed back in.
Wendell Young, who heads up United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1776, immediately panned McIlhinney’s proposal.
“You’re going to end up very quickly with hundreds of state liquor stores losing money, if he were to get his bill to fruition. And, the taxpayers are going to be the biggest losers.”
In a news release, Corbett said, “Senator McIlhinney’s legislation is another important step in giving Pennsylvanians what they want: choice and convenience.”
Should the Senate pass a liquor privatization bill, it would have to go back over to the House.
Two House Republicans said Tuesday McIlhinney’s bill doesn’t go far enough.
Rep. Mike Regan (R-92nd) said, “…this effort does not meet the public expectations that have been raised since the House bill was passed.”
Rep. Stan Saylor (R- 94th) added, “Today, the Senate acted on the issue, but the results are a mixed bag.”
The following are highlights of McIlhinney’s liquor privatization plan:
-Existing beer distributors can purchase wine and spirits licenses. They can also sell beer in six-packs.
-A one-year wine and spirits license costs $8,000. Just wine: $4,000. Just spirits: $4,000. For $2,000, a licensee could sell just one category of spirits, such as whiskey.
-Restaurants and hotels could sell four bottles of 750mL or 1L wine or two bottles of 1.5L or 1.75L wine. They could also sell two bottles of spirits in sizes of 750mL or 1L. Alternatively, the could sell one spirits bottle of 1.5L or 1.75L size.
-Restaurants and hotels also could sell up to four six-packs of beer or up to two 12-packs of beer.
-Eliminates the 18 percent Johnstown Flood Tax.
-Requires a study “two years after implementation to asses the viability of the state wholesale/retail system and change to the current system.”
-Allows for direct wine shipping to customers’ homes.
-Property tax freeze for senior citizens.
-Establishes Safe Ride Home Grant program.