Our View | Senate liquor bill falls short

May 7, 2014 

A proposal before the state Senate would loosen some of Pennsylvania’s archaic liquor-sales controls, but it does not go nearly far enough.

Gov. Tom Corbett campaigned successfully in 2010 on a platform that included getting the state out of the alcohol business. He is now seeking re-election, along with all members of the state House and half of the Senate, with nothing to show for the past four years on this front.

We urge lawmakers to avoid the urge to push through a truncated privatization plan simply to win votes, and instead to get back to work on fully removing government from the alcohol industry.

Senate Republican leaders are attempting to build support for a plan that would allow restaurants with liquor licenses and beer distributors to sell bottles of wine.

This latest effort falls short of the stronger bill passed last summer by the House that would phase out the state-store system and shift sales of wine and spirits to private dealers.

“The Republicans have wide majorities in both chambers and could pass anything they want without any input from the Democrats,” said Tor Michaels, a spokesman for state Rep. Scott Conklin, D-Rush Township. “The rub comes with rural access and affordability.”

State Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, R-Bellefonte, called the Senate concept “half-baked at best and a patronizing attempt to say something was done.”

The people of Pennsylvania deserve more.

Not surprisingly, the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States does not support the measure, which its leaders say fails to address liquor sales, removes revenue from state coffers and does not reduce the costs associated with state-run stores. The distillers have dubbed the plan “incremental privatization.”

“We’re neutral on privatization generally, but if a state is moving toward privatization, we want to see them get it right,” Ben Jenkins, the organization’s vice president for state government communications, said in a visit with the Centre Daily Times.

“This does nothing to reduce costs, but it will reduce revenue,” said David Ozgo, senior vice president for economic and strategic analysis with the distillers’ group. “Pennsylvania would be better off doing nothing rather than doing this halfway measure, I would think.”

Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Allegheny, also voiced opposition to the plan put forth by his Republican colleagues — but for different reasons.

In a statement issued Tuesday, Ferlo cited lost revenue but pushed for his own alcohol plan, which would maintain the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board but further modernize the state’s retail system.

Ferlo said his plan would bring about lower prices and greater availability for consumers.

We say the best way to accomplish those goals is to get government out of the way entirely and allow free enterprise to take over.

Michaels predicted that if the GOP-led General Assembly is unable to “get some sort of privatization bill this year, it will be dead for years to come.”

That can’t be the outcome here. Residents who support ending state-run wine and liquor sales should contact their representatives and let them know.

And we urge those lawmakers to go all the way with privatization.

“You’re either in the business or out,” Benninghoff said.

With the Senate plan, Pennsylvania is still in the business.

It’s past time to get out.

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