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House passes liquor privatization bill

Submitted Fri, 03/22/2013 - 7:43am by Andy Alm

HARRISBURG – The debate lasted all day Thursday but in the end, the vote was 105-90 to sell off the state stores in favor of selling licenses to private businesses. Amendments are likely in the Senate, but the vote marks a temporary win for Governor Tom Corbett, who has been steadfastly pushing this plan since taking office.

Brad Roae, a Republican state representative from Crawford County, tells us he supported the legislation.

“You know, if you’re trying to put together a Superbowl party or something, you have to go to one store to buy a case of beer, another store to buy pop, and another store to buy a bottle of wine.  In any other state, you walk into one store, and you buy everything in the same place.”

Roae said allowing privately owned businesses to sell liquor will help drive down prices for consumers.

“Prices at state stores have to be high to pay for $20-an-hour clerks who can retire in their 50s with early retiree health insurance,” Roae said.  “Private businesses will do a much better job of controlling costs and delivering lower-priced products for customers.”

As more and more privately operated wine and spirits stores are opened in a county, existing state-operated liquor stores would be closed.  Once a county has twice as many privately owned stores as it has state-operated stores, the state stores would be forced to close.  Once the number of state-operated stores falls below 100 across the Commonwealth, the remaining stores would be closed.

“Privately owned sellers will provide better customer service,” Roae said.  “On ‘fake holidays’ like Presidents Day, there is no legal way to buy a bottle of wine because the union government employee clerks have the day off with pay and the stores are closed. In 2011, the state stores were all closed the day after Christmas, one of the busiest shopping days of the year.  A few months ago, there was a major storm in the Philadelphia area, so the system shut down all of the state stores across the Commonwealth.  The Meadville Mall state store was closed but the other 30 stores at the mall and all the local schools were open.  If you get to the Titusville state liquor store at 9:01 p.m. Friday night, your next legal chance to buy a bottle of wine is right before lunch on Monday.  The current system doesn’t work for consumers.”

The current version of the bill would create 1,200 new private sector wine and/or spirits licenses — giving beer distributors the right of first refusal. Opponents say the plan will put thousands out of work and generate less revenue for the state.

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