Drive to privatize Pa. liquor sales hits roadblock

Posted: July 21, 2011

HARRISBURG - The state should stay in the business of selling liquor for now, the top Republican in the Senate said Thursday, all but slamming the brakes on the momentum to privatize the state Liquor Control Board.

Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R., Jefferson) told reporters that while he recognizes that selling off state liquor stores is supported by many Pennsylvanians, he is not sure passing a privatization plan is a good idea. And the Senate, he added, has a lot of other issues on its plate that are more urgent.

Scarnati also said he that removing some of the state's regulations on the Liquor Control Board in coming years would increase its selling price down the road. Getting rid of it now would be equivalent to selling it in a fire sale, he said.

"I'm not so sure that we in Pennsylvania have yet got the best bottom line out of our liquor system that we can," he said.

Last week, House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R., Allegheny) unveiled a bill to privatize both the retail and wholesale operations of the Liquor Control Board.

Steve Miskin, Turzai's spokesman, said he believed Scarnati's comments only reinforced the need to privatize: "The fact that you have to go to the Legislature to make business decisions explains the archaic, wacky process that we have here in Pennsylvania. It's not Prohibition."

Miskin said that liquor privatization is an important issue for Turzai, whose legislation would double the number of liquor stores in the state by auctioning off 1,250 retail licenses, as well as eliminate the 18 percent Jonestown flood tax and the automatic 30 percent markup on products.

The bill, which Miskin said will likely be voted on in the House in October, calls for replacing these with a tax ranging from $8.25 to $12 per gallon, depending on product type and alcohol content.


Contact Inquirer staff writer Sari Heidenreich at 443-554-9136 or sarih1316@gmail.com.

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