Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The first step on the load & winding road to privatization of alcohol sales in Pa.

The long, winding road to privatization of alcohol sales in Pennsylvania started yesterday.

With something of a detour.

A House committee approved an amendment to Gov. Tom Corbett's plan to get the state out of the booze business. There are going to be lots of curves in this road. Yesterday was just the first of them.

An amendment offered by Rep. Mark Mustio, R-44, of Allegheny makes a significant change to the Corbett plan. Instead of blowing up the state store system, and turning the entire business over to private enterprise, Mustio instead will gradually phase in privatization. You can read all the details here.

The move, which also is being promoted by Delco Rep. Tom Killion, R-168, passed in a 14-10 vote. It now will go to the full House floor. Corbett says that despite the seemingly watered-down version of his bill, he likes this plan. It could get a final House vote later this week.

Under this plan, state stores would stick around - at least for awhile. The state would still auction off 1,200 licenses to sell wine and liquor, with beer distributors getting the first crack at them. They can decide what they want to sell, and if they want to add both wine and alcohol. Only after the beer distributors gets their shot will grocery and convenience stores get a shot at the action. Some grocery stores now sell beer, they could add wine under the plan. They would have to reapply to sell beer. After a year, other private enterpise will get a chance at the licenses.

What this means is a stop at your local beer distributor could mean the ability to buy beer, wine and liquor all in one stop.

Only when private sales make up more than 50 percent of sales in a county would the state stores in that county be shut down. When there are less than 100 state stores left in the state, the rest would be shuttered.

It's not the privatization I envisioned, but it's a start. If the House does in fact take a vote later this week, it will be the farthest any effort to change Pennsylvania's archaic system of selling booze has ever gotten.

But don't get your champagne flutes out for the celebration just yet. Remember, this is an amended version of what Corbett was pitching. It's likely more amendments will be considered once this goes out to the House and then the Senate.

If it all sounds confusing, remember this is Harrisburg we're dealing with.

It is confusing, much more so that simply blowing up the system and turning it over to private enterprise.

It's a first step. Down a very long and winding road.



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