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House GOP Sets Up Push For Liquor Privatization

A display holds wine bottles for sale at Wegmans in Mechanicsburg, Pa. Gov. Tom Wolf bought a bottle to celebrate Act 39 liquor reforms.

State House Republicans are attempting to chart a new course for liquor sales in Pennsylvania, pushing a traditionally state-run system further and further toward privatization.

The as-yet-unknown revenue from that change is also expected to play a key role in balancing the caucus’s proposed budget.

As of Monday, four different GOP-led proposals are awaiting votes on the House floor.  

The House Liquor Control Committee just passed House Bills 975 and 1075. The former would stop Pennsylvania from wine wholesaling, and the latter—which is even broader—would take the commonwealth out of both wine and liquor sales entirely.

Both are sponsored by House Speaker Mike Turzai.

They join a pair of more moderate bills already awaiting floor votes. House Bill 991 would let private retailers sell wine and liquor under one roof, as the state’s Fine Wine and Good Spirits stores do under current law. House Bill 438 would expand liquor sales to supermarkets, restaurants, and hotels.

Liquor Committee Chairman Adam Harris, of Franklin County, noted the four aren’t all compatible.

“Obviously, Speaker Turzai would get us completely out of the business, [while] my proposal [House Bill 991] would more or less allow additional retail outlets that would supplement the state store system,” he said. “We kind of need to have a long discussion.”

Democrats have expressed firm opposition, warning there’s no guarantee that privatization will make the commonwealth any money.

Harris concedes, the fiscal impact hasn’t been calculated yet—though he and other Republicans are cautiously expecting additional revenue.

“I would look at it as something we could definitely do to close that budget shortfall a little bit,” he said. “I don’t think we can get the entire budget shortfall made up just by liquor changes, but I think it helps.”

Votes are expected sometime next week.