HARRISBURG -- For supporters of privatizing the Pennsylvania liquor system, the virtues of leaving alcohol sales to business are a rallying cry.
But for the taverns and beer distributors, groceries and wineries already in the market, the movement to overhaul regulations that have shaped their business models are cause for industry-specific opportunity and concern.
Legislation to allow private liquor sales is now before the Senate, and a panel there heard testimony Tuesday from representatives of the various retailers selling alcohol in Pennsylvania. Each made requests -- not always in sync -- intended to protect and enhance their own competitiveness in a privatized system.
An executive of Wegmans grocery stores, which can sell beer in in-store cafes, suggested that supermarkets should also be allowed to sell wine and spirits. The head of a beer distributors association said licenses for that product should be limited to the specialty retailers, and he repeated a request for the ability to sell in smaller containers than cases and kegs. And a representative of an association of taverns, restaurants and bars echoed the opposition to new licenses, while putting forward their own proposal for how beer should be packaged.
The bill that passed the House in March would create 1,200 licenses for the private sale of wine and spirits, available first to beer distributors, with the possibility of up to 600 additional licenses as state liquor stores were phased out. Licenses would allow groceries to sell wine but not beer, except through existing restaurant licenses. The Liquor Control Board would be required to close state stores as private retailers opened.
But the chairman of the Senate Law & Justice Committee, which has jurisdiction over the bill, has said he supports neither that bill nor a proposal by Gov. Tom Corbett that would have allowed groceries and convenience stores to sell beer while setting a deadline to shutter the state stores.
Sen. Chuck McIlhinney, R-Bucks, said he plans to hold a third hearing in early June and to introduce his own bill within the following two weeks. The committee previously heard testimony on social concerns about expanded access to alcohol. Invitations to testify at the final hearing will be extended to wholesalers and to the governor's office, Mr. McIlhinney said.
Mr. Corbett has made liquor privatization a major goal this year, and Tuesday afternoon his office released a statement thanking the Senate committee for "keeping us moving toward a final product by June 30." The governor said disbanding the state liquor business would be good for private retail.
"The proof can be seen in 48 other states, where the free market has flourished, from mom-and-pop shops to larger retailers, creating good-paying, private sector jobs," he said.
Karen Langley: firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-717-787-2141.