Bucks lawmaker proposes alternative to liquor privatization

Posted: March 22, 2014

HARRISBURG A Bucks County lawmaker says he has the answer to the standoff over liquor sales in the state.

Rep. Gene DiGirolamo seeks support for what he calls a liquor sales "alternative" proposal that would leave the state Liquor Control Board intact but that would give it more flexibility with regard to pricing, store leasing, and Sunday hours.

Several provisions in the measure have been talked about before but never packaged in a single bill.

"We do not need to blow up the entire State Store system in order to give customers what they really want, and that's why we need an alternative to privatization," said DiGirolamo, a Republican. "My proposal seeks to implement a number of customer-driven changes while also generating additional profits that will benefit both taxpayers and residents alike."

The bill would give the LCB the ability to control pricing and create "stores within stores" in supermarkets and big-box outlets as well as expand Sunday sales and allow direct shipment of wine. DiGirolamo said the changes would boost LCB profits by $185 million to more than $300 million after the first year.

A spokesman for the House Republicans, who control the lower chamber, said most had already indicated their support for full privatization.

"The House has already spoken about how wine and spirits should be sold in Pennsylvania," said Steve Miskin, spokesman for House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R., Allegheny), citing a March 2013 vote to privatize the system. "Through their elected representatives, the citizens of Pennsylvania have spoken. They want to join the other 48 states which allow private sales of liquor."

Democrats, most of whom oppose privatization, say they are open to DiGirolamo's idea.

"We have not seen the bill, but as described, it has a number of ideas that House Democrats strongly support, including flexible pricing, more options for Sunday sales, and direct shipment of wine," said House Democratic spokesman Bill Patton.

The Senate also passed a version of privatization legislation last year, but the two chambers have yet to agree on a single bill. Legislative leaders are negotiating a plan with Gov. Corbett's office to phase out state-owned liquor stores in favor of private liquor sales but have so far reached no deal.

Miskin also cited recent ethics sanctions against top LCB officials as a reason to remove the control of liquor from the state. Former board chairman Patrick J. Stapleton 3d, former executive director Joe Conti, and former marketing manager James H. Short Jr. were ordered to repay the commonwealth a total of $23,000 after taking improper gifts from vendors.

"Privatization takes the inherent conflict of interest out of the equation," Miskin said.


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