Pennsylvania lawmakers to consider Republican proposal to sell state wine and liquor system

Associated Press

Pennsylvania lawmakers will soon take another shot at whether to sell off the state liquor system.

House Majority Leader Dave Reed, R-Indiana, announced Tuesday a privatization bill will be voted in the last week in February, nearly two years after a passing similar measure that subsequently died in the Senate.

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Reed said the legislation could generate about $1 billion to help balance the 2015-16 state budget. The final product, he said, will need to be something that compares favorably with consumer convenience available in other states.

"We view this as a starting point," Reed said. "We understand it's not an ending point."

A spokesman for Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf said he favors making changes to the existing system that would make it more convenient and competitive, including no special restrictions on Sunday sales, price competitiveness, small state stores within retail establishments and direct shipment of wine and liquor.

The House voted 105-90 vote in March 2013, with all Democrats opposed, to phase out the 600 liquor stores, giving existing beer distributors a priority in purchasing 1,200 wine and spirits licenses. Groceries would have been allowed to sell wine and takeout beer.

Democrats said thousands of state workers would have lost their jobs and warned the proposal would not live up to revenue expectations.

House Democratic spokesman Bill Patton said Tuesday his caucus remains firmly opposed, and called it "foolish" to trade the revenue-producing state stores for an influx of one-time cash.

"It's a bad deal for taxpayers, and the track record in other states that privatized liquor sales in recent years shows that it's also a bad deal for consumers," Patton said. "Prices go up and selection goes down."