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PA Republicans Renew Efforts To Privatize State Liquor Stores

Republicans in the Pennsylvania House are calling for an end to the state’s involvement in liquor sales, but opposition in the Senate could kill the privatization effort.

Watchdog reported on Monday that, “One key lawmaker is proclaiming the government monopoly on adult beverages is destined to fall.”

State Rep. Chris Ross, chairman of the House Liquor Control Committee, told Watchdog that, “There is an inevitable feeling about this right now; that we’re relentlessly moving toward privatization … and I think many people that have been in opposition are beginning to become resigned to the fact that it is coming.”

According to Mainline Media News, the House “approved the sale of state liquor stores by 114-87” last Thursday, “with only three Republicans voting against it.” (RELATED: PA GOP Wants to Decriminalize Out-of-State Liquor Sales)

The privatization bill, House Bill 466, would gradually phase out the state’s roughly 600 wine and liquor stores, replacing them with “1,200 liquor licenses for retail business to sell wine and spirits,” and would also “[provide] assistance to liquor store employees expected to be jobless once state-owned stores close.”

Yet, the article notes that, “the outcome is again uncertain,” as a previous attempt to privatize state-owned liquor stores died in the Senate two years ago, where many Democrats continue to oppose the effort. (RELATED: Pennsylvania Could Privatize State Liquor Stores in Face of Budget Shortfall)

“No one has yet made the case to me as to why it would be better for the people of Pennsylvania,” said state Sen. Daylin Leach, adding that, “We know it would toss a lot of high paying union jobs to be replaced with a lot of lower paying nonunion jobs.”

Leach and other Democrats say they prefer to “modernize” the system, rather than turn it over to private interests. (RELATED: VA Gov Proposes Plan to Sell State Liquor Stores)

Sen. Anthony Williams, who also supports modernization, argued for an approach that involves “improving an asset that works well for Pennsylvania without having to sell that asset,” pointing out that state-owned liquor stores provide “positive cash flow for the state.”

So far, the Senate has not proposed an alternative to the House plan, so the exact form that “modernization” would take is not clear, but Watchdog notes that, even if the House privatization bill manages to pass the Senate, it will face a likely veto from Democratic Gov. Tom Wolfe, who opposes privatization.

Wolfe’s press secretary, Jeffrey Sheridan, claims that the governor supports limited reforms, such as lifting Sunday sales limits and putting more state stores in supermarkets, but said, “The governor just does not support privatizing the liquor system. He supports improving it.”

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