PITTSBURGH (KDKA/AP) — A plan to phase out Pennsylvania’s 600 state-operated liquor stores and raise millions in revenue by selling licenses to private businesses is on its way to the state Senate.
The measure passed the House on Thursday on a 105-to-90 vote after about seven hours of debate. It’s a victory for members of the majority Republican caucus and their ally, Gov. Tom Corbett.
Democratic opponents are warning the privatization bill will put thousands of state store employees out of work, cost more and generate less revenue than supporters predict.
The proposal is likely to see changes in the Senate.
The 194-page bill would give existing beer distributors the priority in purchasing 1,200 licenses to sell wine and spirits.
But the measure up that was up for vote is not quite the same as the original proposal.
When it comes to who gets to sell spirits and wine in Pennsylvania, you can forget Gov. Corbett’s original plan.
“The governor’s proposal, in the opinion of the committee, would not have enough votes to get out of committee, let alone the House of Representatives,” Pa. Rep. Mark Mustio, a Moon Republican and member of the Liquor Control Committee told KDKA political editor Jon Delano.
So Mustio offered a compromise that scales back which private outlets can sell wine and beer, maintains the state-run stores in the short-term, and allows a minimum of 1,200 wine and spirits licenses to private entities.
“[The governor] thought we should go into all the convenience stores and all the drug stores. We did not have that provision on our bill,” added Mustio.
So out are the convenience stores and drug stores — along with membership clubs like Costco and Sam’s Club — but grocery stores which “primarily” sell food and table supplies, will be able to sell wine.
Under the amended plan, beer distributors get first crack at the wine and spirits licenses at a reduced fee.
After one year, any unsold licenses can be purchased by those who will operate a stand-alone alcohol retail store.
Here’s another big change.
The state-run stores will continue to operate in each county for a while — until the number of privately-run stores, including grocery stores selling wine, are double the number of state stores in that county.
“It’s not an immediate closure of all the stores and perhaps the chaos that would cause,” noted Mustio. “And it also gives the transition phase for the employees of the state stores that perhaps want to go work in the private sector.”
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