Liquor’s real tab: Voters will have their say if promises are broken

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The big spenders on liquor lobbying in Pennsylvania aren’t the ones those bartenders in the General Assembly should be serving. Particularly in an election year, the men and women behind the counter should remember who hired them for this joint.

With the House and Senate generating rival ideas for how to address state government’s wine and spirits monopoly, it’s no surprise that companies and trade groups with a stake in the issue would spend big to lobby for themselves.

But there is no interest greater than that of the public, who have borne the burden of this government-run system — the outmoded thinking, the noncompetitiveness and the slowness to innovate — since the end of Prohibition.

A report Monday by the Post-Gazette’s Kate Giammarise detailed the $2.4 million devoted to lobbying (some of it on other subjects) since January 2013 by grocery chains, wine and spirits interests, the beer industry and state liquor employee unions. Giant Eagle spent $286,747, Sheetz $203,622 and Wegmans $303,269. The Distilled Spirits Council and the Pennsylvania Winery Association spent a total of $261,000. Two beer distributor groups committed $178,000. Two liquor store unions spent $517,000.

It’s hard to tell what, if anything, may be accomplished this year on liquor reform. The House, spurred by Majority Leader Mike Turzai of Marshall, passed a bill in 2013 that would privatize the government-owned operation. The Senate appears more interested in tweaking rather than ending the monopoly.

Gov. Tom Corbett promised four years ago to get the state out of the business. Nothing short of that will satisfy the public, based on what most of them have been telling pollsters.

For that reason, elected officials in Harrisburg shouldn’t follow the money — they should follow the votes and where they’re likely to go if promises aren’t kept.

Meet the Editorial Board.

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