Pennsylvania: Senate OKs bill to let restaurants, hotels, sell bottles of wine to go
By Kate Giammarise
December 10, 2015
Restaurants, hotels and some grocery stores would be able to sell up to four bottles of wine to go under a proposal passed Thursday in a mostly party-line vote by the state Senate.
The bill, which was approved 29-21, also would allow for more Sunday and holiday sales and other changes geared to consumer convenience. Grocery stores that already sell beer could also sell up to four bottles of wine.
The proposal is part of a larger framework that could end Pennsylvania’s months-long budget impasse as part of a deal to increase education spending – sought by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf – along with pension and liquor reforms sought by Republican legislative leaders.
But that framework has broken apart in recent days as House Republican leaders said they couldn’t muster votes for any tax increases that would be needed for the level of education funding sought by the governor. After the Senate on Monday approved a $30.78 billion budget supported by the governor, the House on Tuesday voted 115-86 for its own $30.26 billion plan.
Following a Senate committee meeting Thursday morning that sent the wine bill to the Senate floor, Mr. Wolf’s spokesman reiterated his support for the plan as part of the larger potential budget deal.
“The governor is committed to the framework that includes historic education funding, pension reform and liquor reform. He will sign the liquor plan if it is part of the agreed to framework. It is time to finish a budget that is balanced and paid for with revenue that begins to address our chronic deficit,” spokesman Jeffery Sheridan said in a statement.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Pat Browne, R-Lehigh, noting that many in his party believe the bill doesn’t do enough to privatize Pennsylvania’s state-run liquor system, said the bill was a product of “consensus.” Past liquor privatization bills approved by the House would completely end the state’s wholesale and retail alcohol monopoly.
This proposal falls far short of the full privatization of state wine and spirits stores that many Republicans have sought, though it does still represent a major change in how the state sells wine.
“This is the biggest fundamental change in the offering of wine and spirits to the public that we’ve seen in 90 years,” Mr. Browne said.
The proposal would generate $39 million for the state’s general fund this fiscal year and $43 million for the general fund in the next fiscal year, according to a fiscal note attached to the bill. The revenue would come from the sale of expanded permits to sell wine and from increased wine sales.
State stores would continue to sell wine as well as hard liquor.
The bill is opposed by unions representing state store workers who fear the loss of consumer foot traffic from retail state stores would weaken them. The restaurants and hotels selling wine would still be required to purchase the wine they sell from state stores, however. Wine sales account for almost half of all sales by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, according to the agency’s most recent annual report, representing about $885 million.
The bill is also opposed by spirits groups who don’t want to see fewer customers in state stores.
“As more foot traffic goes from state liquor stores to grocery stores, spirit sales will suffer. And when the state loses millions in tax revenue, consumers will be left paying the tab,” said a statement from the Distilled Spirits Council.
Two Democrats voted in favor of the proposal, including Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills; four Republicans voted against the bill.