Gov. Tom Corbett's plan to privatize the state's wine and liquor monopoly is before the Legislature, and the supporters of ridding Pennsylvania of this vestige of Prohibition have reason to be encouraged but also concerned. Will this bill defy the usual forces of reaction and inertia in Harrisburg?
We shall soon see. Last Tuesday, House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods, introduced House Bill 790, the vehicle for the governor's proposal. That's good news, but other governors have been down this path and none has succeeded. The Legislature has proved to be an elephant's graveyard of efforts to put liquor sales in the hands of free enterprise.
HB 790 is expected to be sent shortly to the Liquor Control Committee, where its chairman, Rep. John Taylor, already has stated some objections to it. The Philadelphia Republican believes, on the one hand, that beer distributors may be disadvantaged and, on the other, that beer may become too readily available.
The Corbett plan calls for replacing 600 state stores with 1,200 licensed private stores. Groceries and other outlets would be able to sell six-packs and wine. Beer distributors would be allowed to sell six-packs (not just cases) for the first time, and they could bid for a wine and spirits license. Pennsylvanians would find themselves with the choice and convenience that residents of other states routinely enjoy.
Mr. Taylor is working on amendments and perhaps they will make the bill more acceptable to reluctant lawmakers, but there's reason for concern. In 2011, Mr. Taylor gutted the bill that Mr. Turzai had introduced; it went nowhere and a year was lost. Now Mr. Taylor is talking about allowing state stores to co-exist with private outlets for a time. That plan is a loser -- it risks never completely killing the government's wine and spirits monopoly.
Some principles are needed as lawmakers move ahead. Beer distributors already are given a break in the governor's plan and more aren't needed. Besides, this is supposed to be about consumers. The state system needs to be ended swiftly, not be allowed to hang around like Rasputin resisting all efforts to die. Finally, the governor's plan is sound and most, if not all, of its provisions should be enacted.
It's time to act. The people of Pennsylvania, as revealed by polls, are ready for change. We shall see whether private enterprise is important in Pennsylvania or if this rare, outdated and inefficient state system is really how we like to do business.