Liquor Privatization

Republican Liquor Plan Passes State House Amid Budget Talks

Nov 19, 2015
Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board

  A divided state House is sending a new proposal to privatize Pennsylvania's government-run liquor system to the Senate, but it's not much different than a Republican-backed plan that Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed in June.

The House voted 110 to 86 on Thursday for a bill that would close all 600 state stores and create 1,200 permits to sell wine and liquor.

Beer distributors would get the first opportunity to buy the permits, and what's left would be auctioned off.

Gov. Tom Wolf has let fly another veto of a major Republican priority – the privatization of the state-run liquor system.

In a written statement Thursday, Wolf said he doesn’t want to sell a state asset before it reaches its full money-making potential: “This legislation falls short of a responsible means to reform our state liquor system and to maximize revenues to benefit our citizen.”

Steve Miskin, House GOP spokesman, called the move disappointing.

Devon Christopher Adams / Flickr

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Actor Leonard Nimoy, best known as Mr. Spock on the classic television series Star Trek died last week at the age of 83. He made his Shakespearean acting debut at the Pittsburgh Public Theater in 1975. Pop culture contributor Joe Wos explains more about Nimoy's connection to the Steel City.   

Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board

By a vote of 114-87, the state House has passed a proposal to take apart the state’s liquor system, though the measure is heading to an unenthusiastic Senate and an opposed governor.  

The measure would phase out most state-owned wine and spirit stores and put the state in charge of selling licenses to private retail and wholesale vendors.

House debate went for hours on the merits of the bill – despite the fact that it’s headed for almost certain changes in the Senate.

JMR_Photography / flickr

A proposal to sell off most of Pennsylvania's state-owned liquor system and its wholesale distribution network moved ahead with a vote on the Legislature on Monday, although its prospects to become law remain uncertain.

The state House Liquor Control Committee voted 15-to-10 to advance a Republican-backed proposal that was very similar to a bill that passed the House but stalled in Senate during the last legislative session.

Talk of liquor privatization all but disappeared from the legislative scene a year and a half ago, but the issue is back as state lawmakers discuss top priorities for the new session.

A plan to expand alcohol sales and phase out state wine & spirits stores passed the House nearly two years ago, only to die unceremoniously in the Senate a few months later. But the coming months hold promise for the proposal’s supporters, who say it should be part of any big policy compromise with the Senate and Governor Tom Wolf’s administration.

A once popular issue is now falling into the background, especially in the upcoming gubernatorial general election: the privatization of liquor.

Back in January of 2013, Governor Tom Corbett proposed changing Pennsylvania’s liquor laws and joining the already “48 other states,” whose sale and control of wine and spirits rests in the hands of the private market. Utah is the only other state with controls similar to Pennsylvcania's.

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Talk Radio News Service

We'll talk with Harrisburg Patriot News Editorial Page Editor John Micek about the latest news related to the scandal involving current and former state employees trading raunchy emails. How will it impact the governor's race with three weeks left before election day? And what's on tap in the final days of the legislative session?

The largest retail state liquor store in Pennsylvania opened Thursday – but not everyone is excited.

The expanded store, located on Penn Circle South in East Liberty, is a remodeled and refurbished version of the previous Fine Wines & Good Spirits Store.

At 17,674 square feet, it’s 35 percent larger than its predecessor.

The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) aimed to make the store environmentally responsible by using LED lighting and offering to sell reusable shopping bags made from 60 percent recycled materials.

Gov. Tom Corbett says the liquor privatization issue that has been a priority for him for more than a year is still the subject of negotiations.

Progress ground to a halt last summer on plans to dismantle the state-controlled wine and liquor system and change the rules governing all alcohol sales. But Corbett says there’s still some fizz left in the bottle.

Republican state lawmakers are in talks to keep the issue of liquor privatization alive in the coming months.

House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, the most dogged legislative supporter of the push, said Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley is once again leading the effort to phase out state wine and spirits stores.

He said the fact that it’s an election year will work to the advantage of supporters.

Two legislative leaders are calling on Gov. Tom Corbett to dispel the rumors once and for all that two of his top priorities from the spring are linked as some grand strategy.

Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa is again asking the administration to announce there is no effort to keep transportation funding hostage in order to pass a liquor privatization bill, or vice versa.

The GOP House Majority Leader agreed that it falls to Corbett to de-couple the two items.

The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board reported revenue near $2.2 billion for fiscal year 2012-2013, a 4.5 percent increase over the previous year. In addition, contributions to various state agencies and the general fund exceeded a record-setting $660 million dollars.

Still, this news doesn’t sway Gov. Tom Corbett, who remains a proponent of privatizing the state’s liquor system.

90.5 WESA

Following a “bad weekend” with the collapse of his agenda, Governor Tom Corbett signed a nearly $29 billion state budget Sunday night.  Controversial issues including liquor privatization and allocations for transportation funding remain in the Legislature until the fall, prompting a close examination of these pressing topics and the motivations behind both parties in both the House and Senate.

Mary Wilson / 90.5 WESA

Gov. Tom Corbett has signed an on-time budget, but without any victories on his other top three legislative priorities.

Liquor privatization, transportation funding and pension overhaul will have to wait until the fall for further legislative action.

A transportation funding plan got stuck in the House. A bid to change how alcohol is sold in Pennsylvania stalled in the Senate. Pension overhaul is a plan neither chamber is ready to advance.

After days of negotiations, a plan to expand alcohol sales in Pennsylvania has the preliminary approval of the state Senate.

An amended proposal passed the chamber along party lines in the wee hours Saturday morning, with all 27 Republicans voting in its favor (the Senate voted to override its 11 p.m. curfew to pass the bill).

The proposal must clear another full Senate vote before it goes back to the House.

The fizz hasn’t settled among state Senate Republicans over changes to a plan to expand the sale of beer, wine and liquor in Pennsylvania.

There are rumors — there are even bullet points of what Senate Republicans might change about an alcohol sales overhaul plan. Nothing’s solid.

A plan to expand access to wine, beer, and booze is advancing in the state Senate, though more changes are likely, and Republican support is far from certain.

The Senate's counter-offer to the House's bid to privatize the state's liquor system cleared a key committee by a close vote. Technically, the panel signed off on two bills — identical twin proposals that would allow certain retailers to sell beer, wine and liquor, and allow for the Liquor Control Board to discern when to shut down state stores due to anemic profits.

Groups opposed to a bill that would privatize liquor sales in Pennsylvania held a rally at Mercy Hospital of UPMC Monday, saying the proposal would result in a rise in first responders’ workloads.

“As crime increases, as abuse increases, as the negative impacts of the increased availability of alcohol to youth drinking, to underage drinking, all of these things are going to be a huge responsibility for first responders in this state,” said Barney Oursler, executive director of Pittsburgh UNITED.

State Senate GOP leaders have presented a counter-offer to the state House's liquor privatization plan, though they admit they don't yet have the votes to pass it out of their chamber.

State Senate Republicans are expected to offer their own counter-proposal to the House's plan to phase out state wine and spirits stores and privatize the state's wholesale operation.

But details of the proposal are still under wraps. When asked for a status update on the bill, Senate Appropriations Chairman Jake Corman (R-Centre) said, with a laugh, "That's a great question."

At an umpteenth press conference called by the governor on liquor privatization, press aides futzed around, arranging a people asked to stand around the podium with ready smiles and applause.

The state Senate is next to act in this saga that began with a plan to close down the state wine and spirits stores.

State lawmakers have less than three weeks before the governor's deadline for passing a liquor privatization bill. Much is still unknown about how the process will unfold.

Tempers flared at the third and final state Senate hearing focused on the governor's liquor privatization proposal and related plans to change the way alcohol is bought and sold in Pennsylvania.

By the end, the committee's chairman was barely closer to nailing down the details of a proposal, saying a final plan should allow Pennsylvanians to buy alcohol in "more places," while phasing out the state wine and spirits stores, and without necessarily getting rid of the state-owned wholesale system.

A series of hearings on liquor privatization in Pennsylvania will soon come to an end in the state Senate.

Lawmakers next week plan to finish up a trio of gatherings spurred by the House’s passage of a plan in March to phase out the state’s wine and spirits stores.

Gov. Tom Corbett has blasted state senators for dragging their feet on the issue. But Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley, who helped draft the administration’s privatization plan, has said the Senate has always been “deliberative.”

The chairman of a key Senate panel all but called a time of death for liquor privatization — at least, the effort to pass a measure before July.

Public support may be waning for a plan to sell off the state's wine and liquor stores.

It's the issue on the governor's to-do list that is furthest along in the Legislature, but a new Franklin & Marshall College poll notes support for it has dropped by six points among surveyed voters since February - from 53 percent in a February poll to 47 percent in a May poll.

The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.

Still, more respondents support privatization than oppose it.

Sen. Chuck McIlhinney has said he’s working to find consensus on a liquor privatization proposal, but you wouldn’t know it from his Tuesday committee hearing on the issue.

The chairman of the Senate Law and Justice Committee plays a central role in whether the House-approved plan to phase out state wine and spirits stores advances in the Senate. Tuesday marked the first of what he says will be three hearings on the issue.

Law enforcement groups are asking state lawmakers to consider the impact liquor privatization would have on their efforts and adjust budgets accordingly.

The Pennsylvania State Troopers Association (PSTA) and the state’s Liquor Enforcement Association didn’t come down on either side of the liquor privatization issue. But they did chime in with their hope for more money if a plan goes to the governor’s desk that would result in a proliferation of alcohol retailers.

On the eve of a state Senate committee's first of three hearings on liquor privatization, some might say the issue of selling off the state wine and spirits stores is ripe for discussion.

Not the Senate President Pro Tem.

Sen. Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson) said Monday he's "a little frustrated" that the liquor privatization issue is eclipsing what he thinks should be the central focus right now: the state budget, which is due in two months' time.

A conservative group is turning up the heat on a key state Republican senator who’s voiced skepticism about the liquor privatization plan approved by the House.

A television ad launched by the conservative group Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania, which doesn’t disclose its funders, paints Bucks County state Sen. Chuck McIlhinney as being against selling off the state stores.