Senate works to meet liquor law deadline

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May 14, 2013 – Senator McIlhinney and members of the Senate Law and Justice Committee held a second hearing to examine the governor’s liquor privatization plan.

 

Less than a week after the PA Senate concluded committee hearings on liquor privatization, advertisements opposing such a change have already appeared on local television. Doubtless, they are on the air in Harrisburg also when one man, state Sen. Charles McIllhinney, R-Bucks, is trying to write a more palatable bill than the one passed by the state house in March.

McIllhinney said he would produce a bill within two weeks, which could—if passed and then approved by the house—meet the June 30 deadline set by Gov. Tom Corbett.  But Democrats oppose any privatization because it could mean 5,000 union jobs eliminated, as well as an initial loss of income to the state.

Unlike the byzantine House Bill 790, which would sell liquor licenses separately from beer wine licenses, and actually barred convenience stores from selling beer and wine, McIllheney said he is favoring allowing anyone with a retail beer license, including bars, eateries, distributors—and the supermarkets or convenience stores with restaurant-style beer licenses to sell wine and liquor.

Even Corbett’s initial idea in January called for groceries and convenience stores to sell beer as they do in neighboring states.

“You’re talking about an alcohol license—alcohol means beer, wine and spirits,” said McIllhinney.

This, of course, would eliminate the estimated $1 billion revenue windfall the house bill sought to generate with the sale of new licenses. McIllhinney said he plans to keep the state in charge of wholesale system to stave off the initial loss of as much as $100 million in annual revenue.

Even if he manages to craft something that would bring convenience to the public, placate the army of competing companies who want in on retail alcohol sales, and could win enough Republican votes to overcome a unanimous Democratic “no,” it would still need to be approved through negotiation the house, which given statements by state Rep. Mike Turzai, R-McCandless, is unlikely.

Turzai said selling off the wholesale system is “an essential component” of his bill.

“The only thing that gets to the governor’s desk is a serious bill, one that is substantially similar to House Bill 790,” he said.

Corbett spokesman Kevin Harley would not say whether or not the governor considered it essential.

“We’ll wait to see the details of the bill,” he said.

State Rep. Jake Wheatley again expressed his concern that increased convenience could mean increased problems if the senate version, like HB 790, does nothing to limit the potential growth of liquor outlets.

“It contains no provision for local control to protect against an oversaturation of liquor stores,” he said.

“It contains no provision for local control to protect against an oversaturation of liquor stores. So, I would have to look at (McIllhinney’s bill) because I can’t support any scheme that doesn’t allow local municipalities to limit expansion or have protections for our workers.”

(Send comments to cmorrow@newpittsburghcourier.com.)

 

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