Pennsylvania’s state-controlled liquor system would be sold to private retailers and wholesalers under a plan unveiled Wednesday, July 13 in Harrisburg by House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny. Turzai’s position as Floor Leader gives the measure instant momentum. Moreover, Governor Tom Corbett favors getting the state out of the liquor business.
“Mike has been talking to members for months to try to get votes for his plan,” said one of his aides. “He plans to push hard for this when members come back to session the Fall.”
In a news conference in Harrisburg introducing the proposal, Turzai deflected criticism of the plan regarding lost revenues to the state.
Turzai said that the stores would continue to generate annual revenues through a reformed tax structure, which includes elimination of the 18 percent Johnstown Flood tax and the 30 percent markup by the PLCB. The taxes and charges would be replaced with a “fairer” gallonage tax. The state will also receive tax revenues from the new retail and wholesale businesses that would be created.
"The current system is antiquated and out of touch. It's time to end the statewide monopoly and give consumers better selection and more convenience,” Turzai said.
The union representing the liquor store workers, the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1776, fired back, saying that the state would not only lose revenue but oversight of alcohol consumption.
The President of the union, Wendell Young, said that Turzai’s “scheme” would jeopardize much of the more than $500 million a year that the stores generate for the state.
“It would clear the way for more underage and irresponsible drinking and threaten the livelihoods of 5,000 working Pennsylvanians,” Young said.
“Our current system works well for all Pennsylvanians. It should be strengthened – not ripped apart to benefit chain store retailers and the Big Alcohol industry looking to cash in for a quick buck.”
Turzai’s bill, HB 11, contains a provision aimed at strengthening law enforcement supervision of alcohol sales and enhances alcohol safety and awareness programs.
“The proposal enhances enforcement of liquor laws by providing concurrent jurisdiction for state and local police,” Turzai said.
It also requires retail managers and employees to attend R.A.M.P. (Responsible Alcohol Management Program) training; mandates the use of I.D. scanners with age verification software; requires retail operations to be maintained in a separate area dedicated to the sale of liquor and all retail store employees to be at least 21 years old; and subjects retail licensees to "age compliance checks" to ensure against selling to minors, according to a statement released by Turzai’s office.
The General Assembly fashioned Pennsylvania’s liquor system in 1933, with the end of prohibition. Currently, only Utah maintains the same level of control over the sale and distribution of alcohol.