New Castle News


May 8, 2014

Our Opinion: Proposed liquor law changes don’t do much

NEW CASTLE — Let’s see if we understand this.

Some Republicans in the Pennsylvania Senate are pushing a “reform” of state liquor laws. Under this proposal, wine sales would be privatized, while hard liquor would remain within the oversight of the existing state store system.

Essentially, the existing bureaucracy and government-run retail system would remain in place. While beer distributorships, bars and restaurants would be able to sell wine to go by the bottle, not much else would change.

We have long argued that Pennsylvania has no reason to be in the business of selling alcohol any more than it should be selling pizzas or shoes. The state’s role ought to be enforcement of laws, not marketing.

Every now and then, particularly when a Republican is holding the governor’s seat, talk of Pennsylvania getting out of the liquor business is revived. But so far — other than a little dabbling — nothing much has changed.

The plan now being pushed in the Senate fails to impress us, to put it mildly. But it seems to be geared toward three goals.

First, it would allow Republicans to claim they achieved privatization. Second, it would protect state liquor store jobs — always a factor in Harrisburg. And third, it would appease at least some in the business of selling alcohol now, by giving them the opportunity to sell wine.

However, that wine would continue to be supplied to retailers by the state.

We’re not sure what chance this measure has of passing the Senate, let alone gaining approval in the state House. Some interests will object to certain details. Bottle shop owners will oppose allowing distributors to sell six-packs of beer, for example.

State law has created niches for bars, distributors and bottle shops that have more to do with protecting these businesses  than serving consumers. After creating the special interests, the Legislature now must find a way to buck them if it intends to pursue meaningful reforms.

Of course, how much of this is show and how much is substance is unclear. This particular plan does not call for the creation of private liquor licenses that were supposed to generate new revenue for the commonwealth. In a state desperate for cash, that’s a drawback.

In fact, Democrats are attacking the plan, claiming it will cost Pennsylvania $50 million a year by privatizing wine sales with no licensing to offset it. That’s probably a valid point, but Democrats remain opposed to any privatization plan. So they have nothing constructive on the issue to offer.

Unless citizens demand action on privatization, we don’t expect much to happen. As for folks in Lawrence County, they always have Ohio as an alternative if they’re dissatisfied with the state’s liquor bureaucracy.

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