House Panel Is Delving Into Turzai’s Liquor Privatization Proposal


Members of the Liquor Control Committee listened Wednesday to testimony from House Speaker Mike Turzai on his plan to sell off the state’s 621 liquor stores and auction more than twice as many liquor licenses to private retailers.

Questions ranged from how much the state would stand to profit from unloading its store, to whether the cost for consumers would indeed be cheaper. Turzai maintained that the bill is primarily about giving Pennsylvanians more choice and convenience at liquor stores.

It’s tough to say that without walking headlong into the kind of sentence that makes you sound like you’re endorsing easy access to liquor for the young and the reckless. Turzai avoided this by returning to the image of buying a bottle of wine, say, at a grocery store, and drinking it at home, with hypothetical friends.

“It’s not like this is a novel idea,” said Turzai. “This happens all across the United States.” He said Utah and Pennsylvania are the only states with complete state control of liquor sales.

The House Speaker acknowledged, however, that the bill won’t please everyone. Besides weighing concerns that doubling the number of liquor retailers will make underage alcohol use more common, lawmakers have to consider whether they want to vote for a bill that would lay off the state-run store employees — about 5,000 workers. The logo of their local union, Local 1776 of the United Federation of Commercial Workers, was emblazoned on the yellow shirts of dozens of people who filled the committee room.

Turzai said the bill takes the union’s concerns into account. “We offer tax credits, we offer vouchers and we offer civil service points,” said Turzai.

Committee members also questioned whether the final cost of liquor after privatization would actually go down, as Turzai insists is likely. His proposal would remove the current 30 percent markup and the 18 percent Johnstown flood tax and replace them with corporate taxes and a per-gallon tax, which will depend on alcohol content and product type. Turzai said competition between sellers will keep prices down.

The Republican Liquor Control Committee Chairman, Representative John Taylor of Philadelphia, said it’s “hard to predict.”

“Every business has a mark-up,” said Taylor. He said he’s inclined to vote for privatization — not that it’ll be politically easy.

“The ripple effect of any legislation that involves liquor is something that we have to consider,” he said.

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