State lawmakers are taking a shot again at trying to sell off wine and liquor stores. A House committee voted Monday to move a bill forward to privatize the state’s liquor system. Republicans have tried this before, so what proof is there anything is different this time?
House Bill 466 is similar to versions Republicans have tried numerous times to get passed, but they believe this time may be different with upcoming budget negotiations.
"Like so many other kinds of businesses that operate in Pennsylvania, grocery stores, gas stations; we don't do those as a governmental function," said Committee chairman Representative Chris Ross (R-Chester).
The House Liquor Control Committee moved a step closer after a 15-10 vote in favor of a bill to privatize the state's liquor system. The Republican-controlled House is working quickly to get it passed and already have a floor vote scheduled for Thursday. This is something they may use as a bargaining tool in upcoming budget talks with Gov. Tom Wolf (D), who doesn't support the plan.
"Here we are in February and June is a long time away so I am sure we are going to have a lot more conversations between now and then," said Rep. Ross.
The bill is similar to previous versions. If passed, it would shut down 600 state-operated liquor stores and in place create 1,200 wine and spirit retail licenses to be sold off to beer distributors and private retailers such as convenience stores.
Rep. Paul Costa (D-Allegheny) said the state will lose money in this deal.
"The math that we have been doing after five or six years, we start losing 200 million dollars every single year for infinity," said Costa, who brought up a recent interview in which the bill's sponsor House Speaker Mike Turzai (R) confused the bill with previous versions. "If the Speakers own bill he's confused with what's in it, how do you think the rest of our members feel?" said Rep. Costa.
Those against the bill say if it passes, 4,000 state employees will lose their jobs. Instead of privatizing, Gov. Wolf wants to modernize the system by doing things like allowing more Sunday sales.
"Governor Wolf supports modernization of the state’s liquor stores, which can produce new revenue that can be used to fund vital programs while improving options for consumers and making sales more convenient," said Wolf spokesman Jeffrey Sheridan.
Sheridan cited the following proposals:
- The removal of Sunday sales limitations so that there are more consumer-friendly options
- Ensuring prices are competitive with those in other states
- Opening small state stores inside of retail stores like supermarkets
- Direct shipment of wine and spirits
Rep. Costa supports a similar, consumer convenience plan. "My issue is that there is a better way we can do this," said Costa.