Expanding wine, beer sales in Pa. - LancasterOnline: Editorials

Expanding wine, beer sales in Pa.

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Posted: Tuesday, April 1, 2014 9:13 am

The “compromise” liquor reform proposal legislative negotiators in Harrisburg reportedly are working on is a compromise in name only.

The proposal apparently would leave state liquor stores with the exclusive right to sell wine and spirits, but it would expand services in a number of ways, many of them not particularly good for Pennsylvania.

Under the “draft” proposal, convenience stores would be permitted to sell beer, even if located in gas stations.

Also, grocery and convenience stores could purchase wine retail licenses, but for a hefty price — $10,000 a year. Beer distributors could purchase wine licenses, too, as well as break cases of beer into six packs (up to three six packs per customer).

In addition, state Liquor Control Board-qualified wineries could ship a limited quantity of wine directly to consumers — subject to a 12 percent tax.

The measure would direct the LCB and the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee to study leasing the state’s wine and liquor wholesale business to a private company.

Making it more convenient for people to drink and drive is not our idea of reform. Nor is imposing substantial fees and taxes for those who would provide for expanded services. Giving up the wholesale liquor business isn’t the answer, either.

Far from being a compromise, the plan would tip the scales wildly in favor of privatization, relinquishing too much control of a valuable state asset.

A more reasonable approach comes from state Rep. Gene DiGirolamo, a Bucks County Republican.

DiGirolamo would leave the state in charge of selling wine and liquor, but give the LCB more freedom to set prices, expand hours (including Sunday hours) and expand its liquor “store within a store” program for grocery stores.

Also, the plan would allow Pennsylvanians to receive direct shipments of wine and spirits at their homes, and the LCB could ship out of state.

DiGirolamo says his plan could generate an extra $185 million in the first year.

That could add significantly to the $500 million the state store system already generates annually for state coffers.

Beyond that, the DiGirolamo plan leaves control of the system with the state, thus keeping the “C” in Liquor Control Board.

DiGirolamo’s plan deserves much more serious consideration than the so-called compromise that is a risky privatization plan in disguise.

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