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Step two in liquor privatization process; Senate committee takes a lookIt’s crunch time at the State Capitol and besides the budget that is due in three days, several major issues are getting a look.  Privatizing Pennsylvania’s liquor system could be a hot topic on the floor of the Senate today.

There are no direct ties between the privatization plan and the state budget for this year.  Still, the Governor has asked for a plan to be finalized and on his desk by the June 30th budget deadline.  The Senate is expected to take on this measure, with a floor vote possible as early as today.  With only three days until the self-imposed deadline, the time is ticking.

T-minus 72 hours until the state budget is due.  Still, no deal is done on the spending plan or the Governor’s three main issues including pension reform, transportation funding and liquor privatization.

“Pennsylvanians wants this.  Pennsylvanians have demanded this for a long time and clearly there is much more of an impetus to get this done now than ever before,” said Matthew Brouillette from the  Commonwealth Foundation.

Liquor has been getting a lot of attention in the Senate.  A Senate committee approved a version of liquor privatization plan on Monday, setting the table for a possible floor vote as early as today.

“This is a responsible proposal made by responsible people,” said Lt. Governor Jim Cawley.

“Once again, the administration is coming up with solutions in search of a problem,” said Representative Frank Dermody, (D) 33rd District.

The Senate plan includes the two-year selling off of the state stores to private buyers but does allow for state leaders to reexamine the plans and its financial implications.  Some worry about the hundreds of millions of dollars that the PLCB brings in for the general fund each year.

“These entities are going to be taxed.  We are going to get the exact same amount of money and more because we are going to stop the border bleeding,” said Representative Tom Killion, (R) 168th District.

This idea stops short of the House’s plan to fully privatize the system immediately on both the wholesale and retail side, completely taking Pennsylvania out of the booze business.  Besides the implications to the state budget, at stake is between 4,000 and 5,000 state jobs.

“You’re going to kill all these family sustaining jobs and somehow people are going to go out and work minimum wage at a damn Sheetz is outrageous,” said Senator Jim Ferlo, (D) 38th District.

Still, the Governor is pushing for a deal to be reached by the June 30th budget deadline.  At this point, many don’t think the Senate Republicans have the 26 votes needed to pass a floor vote.  Some rural Republican Senators remain dicey about the plan and the affects it will have to servicing smaller areas.

Again, there are no floor votes scheduled for today and many people think the Senate Republicans are running out of time.  Any deal they would be able to manufacture would have to go back to the House to get passed.  If no deal is reached by the June 30th deadline, it could however spill over into the fall.

The bills to privatize PA’s Liquor system are moving forward in Harrisburg.  A senate committee voted 6-5 to advance the bills that open up alcohol sales to restaurants, bars and beer distributors, and phase out the state run stores.

The vote comes as the deadline for the state budget is just 5 days away.  FOX43 sat down with budget secretary Charles Zogby who says liquor privatization is about convenience for PA residents.

” The ability for the person going shopping is to be able to buy beer and wine at the grocery store, a one stop shop. Convenience for PA consumers I think is important here and I think that is going to be one of the important features the governor will want to see in a final bill.”

The liquor privatization bills face tough opposition from the union representing store employees and some beer distributors.

 

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.

Booze continues to cause controversy at the State Capitol.  The Liquor Privatization bill is headed to the senate. Tuesday,  people on both sides of the issue had their final say at the third and final public hearing.  A  debate years in the making  sparking tension between Lieutenant Governor Jim Cawley and State Senator Jim Ferlo.

“You`re going to kill all these family sustaining jobs and somehow people are going to go out and work minimum wage at a damn Sheetz it’ s outrageous,” says Ferlo

“This is a responsible proposal made by responsible people who aren`t playing to a group of people in this room,” says Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley

That  hearing room was filled with some of the four thousand union workers concerned about the future of their jobs. The Governor’s Administration promises convenience for Pennsylvanians and increased revenue that would go toward education.  He hopes the bill lands on his desk by the time the state budget is due at the end of the month.

It has been a little over a month since the House passed Governor Tom Corbett’s Bill to sell off the state’s liquor system. It’s now in the hands of the Senate, where people are far from sold. “I am not for unlimited access, unlimited new licenses, devaluing existing licenses and providing youth alcohol at every corner is not something I think Pennsylvanians want. New packages and more convenient locations, yeah I think that is something we can try to achieve,” said Senator Charles T. McIlhinney, Jr. Chairman of the Senate Law and Justice Committee.

Senator McIlhinney is hoping they can gather information from three public hearings on how to revise the bill to pass the senate. “The house has been fumbling through it for two years. They finally got something to us and today is our turn to take a look at it and go through all of these issues,” he said.

At the first hearing held on Tuesday the Senate Committee listened to testimony on the impacts privatization could have on the community. Speakers included people from law enforcement, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and drug and alcohol service providers.

Joe Kovel, the president of the Pennsylvania Troopers Association said with this bill, responsibilities will fall on police. Law enforcement officials are asking for extra money to be directed to them in a revised bill. “You have to fund us. We cannot afford another unfunded mandate and the way this is presented that is exactly what it is,” said Kovel.

Drug and alcohol agencies weighed in strongly against the plan. “Alcohol is public enemy number one. Alcohol is not the same as bread. We should not be normalizing it. Anybody who thinks alcohol is bread needs to spend a day with me in detox you cannot imagine the human suffering from people of every walk of life,” said Deb Beck, President of Drug and Alcohol Service Providers Organization of PA. “If you increase access, you increase consumption and alcohol-related problems. It should be an inconvenience to those looking for a quick fix. We can’t handle what we got why would you make this worse?”

The next hearing is tentatively scheduled for May 15,2013.  “We’re going to hear from the retailers, people who want to sell it. We’re going to hear from the wholesalers who say they can get better prices in to us,” McIlhinney said.

A third hearing will be held in the beginning of June and McIlhinney hopes to put together a revised plan by the middle of June. “Whether it gets the votes, it passes and signed by the governor I can’t predict that, but I can predict that I will put up a proposal and put it to a vote; a privatization plan.”

Harrisburg- The State House voted in favor of a facelift for Pennsylvania’s antiquated liquor system.  The bill, House Bill 790 which approves liquor privatization, now moves on to the Senate where the privatization water is a bit murky.

It depends on what side of the aisle you fall as to how you believe this bill will affect your purchases.  Republicans think it will give more convenience, better choices and lower prices.  The Democrats believe Pennsylvania is selling off one of its most precious commodities for pennies on the dollar.  Either way, privatization is one step closer to become a realization.

Some 80 years after the end of prohibition, the Pennsylvania House voted in favor of privatizing the liquor system which would essentially get the state out of the booze business.

“I think it is a great bill.  I think it is one that we can work with,” said Governor Tom Corbett, (R) Pennsylvania.

“It’s something we are very proud of and it was a long time coming,” said Representative John Taylor, (R) Philadelphia.

House Republicans lead the charge last night.  After seven hours of floor debate, the bill passed the chamber in a 105 to 90 vote.  Under this plan, 1,200 liquor licenses would be up for sale, with grocery stores now eligible to sell beer and wine.  Daily hours could also expand bringing with it more convenience.

“We are moving PA into the 21st century.  This is a significant step,” said Representative Mike Turzai, (R) Allegheny County.

“If you believe in privatization, this is not the bill to do it,” said Representative Mike Sturla, (D) Lancaster County.

Democrats prefer the idea of modernizing the current system rather than selling it off.  Party members claim the state would lose almost $200 million a year in revenue.  Four thousand state workers could be out of a job if this bill passes.  Finally, enforcement is a worry.

“The more you learn about this, the uglier this bill looks.  I think that once people get to shine the light of day on this thing, they will look at it go and this is one ugly piece of legislation,” said Representative Sturla.

House Bill 790 is now heading to the Senate for consideration.  House Republicans realize there will be changes but believe it is a great start.

“We recognize that this is not complete but it definitely shows there is support for the four cornerstones of the private market,” said Rep. Turzai.

There are two noticeable omissions from the bill that passed last night compared to the Governor’s proposal.  First, there is no mention of where the money will go.  The Governor is hoping to put one billion dollars towards education.  Secondly, House Bill 790 does not include gas stations or pharmacies as places booze is sold. Of course, all of this can change when the Senate gets its hands on the bill.

PA Legislators Debating Privatization of Liquor StoresIt took close to eight hours as both political parties debated the bill but finally around 8:30 p.m. on Thursday, it was passed in the state House of Representatives.

Democrats voted unanimously against it. They say this bill will put thousands of people out of work, cost the state money, and lead to higher rates of alcoholism.

“If this bill is enacted, it will cost thousands of hard-working Pennsylvanians their jobs. These are workers in Harrisburg, in Dauphin County and beyond who stand to lose their jobs at no fault of their own,” says Rep. Patty Kim, (D-Dauphin.) “Our struggling economy cannot withstand any more unemployed workers, especially in the greater Harrisburg region. And they will be lost to big-box retail giants. It just doesn’t add up. My choice was convenience or jobs: I choose saving jobs.”

However, the Republicans have been arguing people have wanted this for a long time.

“We took a historic first step toward moving Pennsylvania into the 21st century and allowing the private sector to handle the sale of wine and spirits,” says Rep. Ryan Aument (R-Lancaster.)  “I voted in favor of House Bill 790, because the bottom line is government should not have a role in the sale of alcohol, and the majority of constituents that have reached out to me on this issue agree.”

They say this will bring shoppers back into Pennsylvania who’ve been leaving the state for lower prices; they continued to say it’ll double the number of stores. Also, it will let grocery stores sell wine and beer.
The House Bill 790 passed with a 105 to 90 vote and will now move on to the State Senate.

Decades after the end of prohibition, Pennsylvania is moving one step closer to getting the government out of the alcohol business; however, it is far from a done deal.

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives is expected to take a historic step Thursday by taking a vote on whether to privatize the state-run liquor stores.

But, the debate continued Wednesday as to who’s on the right side of history.

At one point, more than 100 amendments to the bill were due to come up, potentially leading to a long night at the Capitol. But, as the day went on that number dwindled until a Democratic proposal to gut the bill was shot down. Debate ended before 5 p.m., with the expectation the House will vote Thursday some time after 3 p.m.

It’s the first time a proposal to sell of the state’s liquor stores has gone this far.

“This is a huge step. This is something people have wanted. We’ve debated this issue time and time again over the years. Many governors have tried. I think that the governor starting this process, putting the first step forward. The changes that will evolve I think will come out to a fair plan,” said Rep. Sheryl Delozier (R-88th).

Democratic leaders say their entire caucus plans to vote no, meaning Republicans will have to come up with all 102 votes needed to pass the bill.

Lawmakers debated Wednesday, approving a few amendments that were technical in nature and dealt with language in the bill.

Since Gov. Tom Corbett (R) pitched his privatization plan, there have been some substantive changes to the bill.

As it stands now, existing beer distributors would get the first shot at buying licenses to sell beer and wine. Also, the bill no longer directs $1 billion from the sale of licenses to education.

Supporters of privatization say the intent is still there to funnel money to schools, but no dollar amount is guaranteed.

Rep. Patty Kim (D-103rd) said she could not support the bill for several reasons, including impacts on current employees and the handling of money for education.

“I think realistically, it could be anywhere from $250 million up to $1 billion. And, I think that’s incredibly unfair to tie privatization to public education,” said Kim. “I have people in distress because they can’t find jobs. And, to lay off maybe 4,500 more, it’s just going to devastate my district. And, we can’t get back from this economy. It’ll just take a longer time to recover.”

Meanwhile, several employees of the state-run stores were at the Capitol to watch the debate.

Despite calls for the number of liquor stores to double and assurances the state will work with employees to find work, many of them are upset and frustrated with the plan.

“I have a six-year-old. I just want to be able to give him the life I’m giving him now. It’s nothing crazy. I just can’t believe we have to be going through this,” said Billie Moyer, who’s worked for the state for 25 years.

She said her father was an employee too at one point and tearfully recalled her family’s concerns over privatization over the years.

Moyer said, “All these people, all in their suits, they all have their careers and their lives. And, they want to take ours. And, I don’t get it.”

Rep. Delozier responded, “There’s a lot of people who want to make sure they have an easy transition, they have opportunities…I think there’s a lot of willingness to make sure that those that have the training and have the opportunity get the first shot at it.”

Local News
03/18/13

Liquor Privatization

The state is one step closer to privatizing the way alcohol is sold.  The House Liquor Control Committee voted Monday 14 to ten in favor of an amended bill privatize the state’s liquor system.  A major difference of this amended bill is that it does not earmark a billion dollars toward educational block grants as Governor Corbett has initially proposed.  Meanwhile, only about two dozen people were allowed inside the meeting.  Many who were waiting to get in the courtroom were those who work for the state selling liquor and are worried about their jobs.  The bill will now head to the state house where a vote could come as early as next week.

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