Pennsylvania: Pa. House Committee Again Advances Liquor Reforms
By Dan Packel
November 16, 2015
A Pennsylvania house committee on Monday again advanced legislation that would end the state’s monopoly on wine and liquor sales, amid discussions that reform would be part of the larger framework for a bipartisan agreement to resolve the state’s budget crisis.
The Republican-controlled House Liquor Control Committee approved the measure by a 14 to 9 vote. House Bill 1690 would close all existing state-owned liquor and wine retail stores and create 1,200 new permits for private entities.
Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, vetoed a similar bill in July, and committee Democratic Chair Paul Costa, D-Allegheny, contended that HB 1690 was “essentially the same bill.”
“I don’t believe that the veto issues were addressed,” he said at the hearing.
The bill, introduced by House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, would give licensed beer distributors a first chance at the new permits. Any permits left unclaimed after six months would then be made available via public auction.
The bill would also end the state’s role as the sole wholesaler of wine and liquor in Pennsylvania and allow grocery stores to obtain permits for alcohol sales.
In vetoing the similar bill in July, Wolf expressed concerns about removing a viable revenue stream for the state in favor of a one-time payment. He also invoked the prospect of higher prices and decreased selection.
Wolf spokesman Jeffrey Sheridan said Monday that while reforms to the liquor system were a tentative part of the larger framework for a budget deal, final details of the agreement have yet to be made available. The state is currently in its fifth month without a budget.
Costa acknowledged that the bill advanced by the committee was intended to serve as a “vehicle” for this eventual agreement, but he said it was an unnecessary step. He noted that the House already had a bill on direct-wine shipments pending in its Rules Committee.
“If we could come to an agreement, we could amend that,” he said, adding that several other bills touching the subject were sitting in the Senate.
The bill passed by the legislature in June was the closest the state has ever come to undoing its monopoly on liquor sales, which has been in place since the end of prohibition.