The Pennsylvania House last week passed a measure backed by Gov. Tom Corbett that would take the commonwealth out of the booze business.
The measure, House Bill 790, passed 105-90. All Democrats and a few Republicans voted against it. The state Senate will next take up the bill.
House GOP majority leader Mike Turzai said the bill “would responsibly privatize wholesale and retail sales of wine and spirits in a consumer-friendly way without taking revenues from the state budget.”
According to a news release from Turzai’s office, House Bill 790 allows beer, wine and liquor to be sold in one licensed location. The legislation calls for the state’s 600 state stores to be phased out.
Currently, state liquor stores sell wine and spirits, while privately owned beer distributors and craft beer stores sell beer.
The legislation contains provisions supported by state Rep. John Taylor (R-177th dist.) that give beer distributors the first crack at buying licenses allowing them to sell beer, wine and liquor. Taylor, in an e-mail to the Northeast Times, said the measure was all he wanted.
In a phone interview March 6, Taylor said he wanted privatization legislation to protect Pennsylvania’s beer distributors, 121 of which are in Philly, from being swept away.
State Rep. Ed Neilson (D-169th dist.), like all Democrats, voted against the privatization legislation.
He disputed Turzai’s claim that the state wouldn’t lose any revenue, and said it will cost $170 million annually in lost tax revenue and thousands of jobs.
“As if the jobs and the lost revenue weren’t bad enough, the Republican plan will also create an unfair playing field that favors big-box retailers,” Neilson said.
Neilson hopes the Senate will look at modernizing the current system, rather than scrapping it.
State Rep. Tom Murt (R-152nd dist.), one of the five Republicans to vote against HB 790, has other problems with the bill.
“It expands the sale and distribution of alcohol in Pennsylvania on a massive scale without any increase in funding for law enforcement and public safety activities,” he stated in a news release. “This is an unfunded mandate on all of our law enforcement professionals across Pennsylvania, which is why the Fraternal Order of Police and Police Chiefs Association opposed the bill.”
Murt, whose district includes part of Northeast Philadelphia, also said the bill does not do enough to keep convicted criminals from going into the liquor business and there is “no prohibition on outlets near half-way houses, day care centers, and schools. Nor were there any requirements that licensees be residents of Pennsylvania.” ••