Ferlo: Modernize, Don't Privatize Liquor Sales in PA

Mar 7, 2013

State Senator Jim Ferlo favors modernization over privatization of Pennsylvania's Liquor Control Board and state stores.
Credit Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board

Just a day after the House Republican leader introduced another attempt to privatize liquor stores in Pennsylvania, a Pittsburgh area lawmaker has unveiled legislation to modernize, but not eliminate, the state store system in the commonwealth.

"If we want to preserve and protect a great system that needs to improve, we really should be focusing in on various modernization efforts," said State Senator Jim Ferlo (D-Allegheny).

He says his legislation would address several aspects of the state's Liquor Code including more appropriate pricing, reform in beer sales, direct shipment of wine to consumers, and easier access to in-demand products.

"Allow the PLCB (Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board) to open more stores, to encourage those stores to be either within or near supermarkets and grocery stores.  We would remove the caps so they can be open later including Sunday—improving their hours of operation," and Ferlo projected their profitability as well—"$100 million in general fund revenues, above the 18 percent excise tax and the sales tax."

Ferlo added that his plan allows for state stores to adjust their prices.  "Right now it's a one size fits all.  If you have a county right next door to Maryland, New York state, New Jersey or Ohio, you would want to have the [state liquor] system allow for flexible pricing so they can understand what that particular parochial marketplace is.  We don't allow that to happen."

With the support of Gov. Tom Corbett, House Republican Leader Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) Tuesday proposed a privatization bill.   The governor said his plan would yield one billion dollars over four years, which he proposed reserving for an education block grant program for schools. But Ferlo questions the sustainability of that proposal and asks what happens to those school programs when the money from the sale of licenses dries up.

Representative Turzai said he doesn't expect a complete replacement of the 600 state stores immediately but views his measure as a move "toward" the private sale of liquor and wine.

Turzai expects the Republican-controlled House to approve his bill and send it to the Senate by early April. Turzai's privatization efforts last June failed when he couldn't line up enough votes in his caucus.