Debate began Monday evening on the latest version of a plan to get state government out of the booze business. Majority Leader Mike Turzai asked, “Why is Pennsylvania so anachronistic? Why is Pennsylvania not willing to focus on its citizens and consumers?” Turzai has been the leading voice on liquor store privatization.
His latest plan would replace the 620 state-run liquor stores with 1,600 private sector wine & spirits licenses. Pennsylvania’s beer distributors would be given the right of first refusal at a fair market value. The remaining licenses would be auctioned off to the highest bidder.
But Monday’s House debate was cut off after nearly three hours, and has not resumed since. Democratic Leader Frank Dermody doesn’t think supporters have the votes. “I don’t believe they’re there, and we’re working hard to make sure it stays that way,” Dermody explained to Radio PA by phone. “Even if you’re for privatization, this is a terrible bill.”
While beer distributors would be given first crack at the new licenses under Turzai’s plan, the Malt Beverage Distributors Association of Pennsylvania opposes the language. “Ultimately when you look at this bill, it’s just forcing your local beer distributor out of business to sell-out to a major corporation,” explains Mark Tanczos, president of the MBDA of PA. Tanczos outlined his position in a letter to the General Assembly.
Governor Tom Corbett can be counted among the high-profile proponents of liquor store privatization. Corbett recognizes this won’t be the final legislative product, but wants to get the ball rolling nonetheless. “Let’s get this first step done,” Corbett emphasized to reporters this week.
House debate could resume as early as Monday.