PA’s Fiscal Watchdog Opposes Liquor Privatization Bill

Auditor Genral Jack Wagner

Auditor General Jack Wagner addressed the media on Wednesday.

The proposal to privatize Pennsylvania’s wine & spirits stores is a bad deal for taxpayers and customers alike, according to Auditor General Jack Wagner.   “Would you sell a reliable asset that brings in a profit of at least $100-million dollars a year… losing 5,000 jobs during tough economic times?”  Wagner asked.  “I don’t think so.”  Wagner shared his concerns with reporters in Harrisburg before traveling to Philly to testify before the state House Liquor Control Committee. 

Wagner calls the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board one of the few profit-making ventures in state government, and balked at estimates that Pennsylvania could generate an up-front windfall of $1 – $2-billion dollars by divesting its liquor stores.  “Wouldn’t it be an embarrassment if this legislation passed and we got virtually nothing for the LCB?”

While he’s not opposed to the concept of privatizing certain state operations, Wagner doesn’t think it makes sense in the case of the state-run liquor stores.  Wagner suggests modernizing the system as the preferred option, noting that state lawmakers need to take the handcuffs off of the PLCB. 

While the Auditor General doesn’t see the logic behind this privatization movement, Governor Tom Corbett says it starts with philosophy.  He says the LCB’s dual role of selling and regulating alcohol is a conflict of interest.  “We are enforcing the liquor laws, we are enforcing the drunk driving laws, we are enforcing the drinking laws, yet we have the main agency when it comes to liquor saying drink more,” Corbett told a recent Pennsylvania Press Club luncheon.  “Get out of the business.” 

The state House Liquor Control Committee is in the midst of two days of hearings on the privatization bill in Philadelphia.  HB 11 is scheduled for a committee vote in mid-December.