On Thursday, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed liquor privatization legislation sponsored by Speaker of the House Mike Turzai. You can see how your legislator voted in this interactive graphic from PennLive.com.
Back in 2013, the House passed the first liquor privatization bill since the end of Prohibition more than 80 years ago. With yesterday’s vote, the House has recommitted to expanding choice and convenience for consumers by getting government out of the booze business.
We applaud the House for acting in the best interests of taxpayers and consumers and again recognizing that the vast majority of Pennsylvanians—no matter their political leanings—want government out of the liquor business.
Even with this victory, the liquor privatization debate is only just heating up. As talks continue, it’s critical that these principles of liquor privatization undergird any changes to the legislation:
- Government should permanently and unequivocally get out of the business of selling alcohol and end the system in which state-run liquor stores, with all their advantages and taxpayer subsidies, compete against private mom & pop businesses.
- Only full privatization ends the conflict of interest inherent in having the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board both regulate and promote wine and liquor sales with tax dollars. Modernization would allow the PLCB to continue to produce government-brand wine and fiascos such as the failed wine kiosk program, undermining Pennsylvania wineries, consumers, and taxpayers alike.
- Modernization or other measures that maintain the current state store system fail to move Pennsylvania into the 21st century and deliver the choice and convenience Pennsylvanians want. Modernization is like offering consumers a “touch-tone” phone—it’s better than a rotary phone, but is a far cry from the smart phones consumers really want in 2015.
- To promote competition, lower prices, selection and convenience, lawmakers should allow the market to decide the number of outlets that can sell wine and spirits. At the least, the number of licenses should be set to the national average of retail outlets based on population, to keep Pennsylvania competitive with the rest of the nation.
- While beer distributors cannot expect to retain their protected oligopoly, proposals should treat them fairly in consideration of how much time and money they have invested in their business, including minimizing the cost of upgraded licenses and guaranteeing loan financing for new licenses.
Opponents of consumer choice will continue to employ the same scare tactics about privatization, but their arguments ring hollow (brush up on your facts and responses here). At the end of the day, government booze doesn’t make us safer or economically stronger.
It’s time to end Pennsylvania’s Prohibition era once and for all.