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PA’s Liquor Board Is Posting Record Profits, That Worries Some Lawmakers

Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board

Pennsylvania’s Liquor Control Board, which regulates all the wine and spirits sales in the commonwealth, is touting its contributions to state coffers.

Its annual report shows it set its highest-ever sales record last year—$2.67 billion.

The board kicked more than $185 million of that back to the commonwealth’s general fund, and even more in taxes. It wasn’t the highest contribution in recent years, but it is in line with the legislature’s increasing tendency to rely on the PLCB for cash.

PLCB spokesman Shawn Kelly said one key to the board’s success is flexible pricing—a power lawmakers gave it three years ago.

It lets the PLCB negotiate more aggressively with suppliers and vary its product markups, instead of applying a blanket one. Kelly added, it’s not the only thing that’s made a difference. 

“There are a variety of factors that are included in recent legislative changes that allowed us to make more money,” he said, noting auctions for expired restaurant liquor licenses have also been lucrative.

But some lawmakers have regretted the decision to allow flexible pricing. Bedford County Representative Jesse Topper, a Republican, has said he thinks the strategy amounts to a random tax on consumers.

“The difficult thing about having a system that is state-owned—it’s not a free market,” he said.

Topper has a bill that would repeal flexible pricing. However, it and other—mostly Republican—efforts to privatize the PLCB haven’t gotten much traction.