Republican legislators in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives just took the first step to get the state out of the liquor business.
The House Liquor Control Committee voted 15–10 along party lines to pass a bill that would privatize Pennsylvania’s state-run liquor stores system, which would make the price of alcohol drop. The Republican-backed proposal would sell the state-owned liquor stores to private distributors, allow grocery stores to sell wine and authorize over 1,000 new liquor licenses. This vote follows a similar attempt, also from Republicans, that failed in 2013.
“There are obviously needs for reform in the liquor system, but I’m not certain that privatizing is the right reform,” said Rep. James Roebuck (D-Philadelphia), who represents Penn’s district in the state House.
Republicans, who unanimously supported the bill in 2013, have argued that selling the state-run stores gives Pennsylvania more revenue at a time when the deficit has reached $2 billion.
For Democrats, the state-run liquor system is more than just a budgetary issue. “It doesn’t address the long-term impact that the change would make in terms of the way we sell alcohol and how we distribute it to communities, and that’s the real issue here,” Roebuck said in response to the reasoning behind the Republican proposal. “I think you have to really look at this issue all the way through and ask: If we are getting rid of a state system just because of people who reject anything state-controlled, is what you get in exchange any better? I’m not convinced of that.”
Roebuck added that he needs to read the entire bill before he can definitively say how he will vote on it, but expressed strong doubts.
While Democrats and Republicans in the state legislature remain divided, a majority of Pennsylvania voters agree with Republicans. A poll conducted by the Commonwealth Foundation in October 2013 found that 66 percent of likely Pennsylvanian voters want to privatize the state-run liquor store system.
The House General Assembly is expected to vote on the bill later this week, but the proposal’s future remains unclear. Although the bill will likely pass the legislature, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has indicated he will veto the bill if it includes full privatization of state liquor stores.
“I just hope we have a chance for a full-scale debate on this, and it’s not going to be something we try to ram through on a spur-of-the-moment effort,” Roebuck said. “I would like to see us really look at options ... and not throw away everything to get a new system that might not work very well.”
Correction: A previous version of the article headline indicated the bill already passed in the House, when it in fact only passed a committee in the House. The DP regrets the error.Comments powered by Disqus
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