The Liquor Control Board on Wednesday voted 2-1 to waive $27.7 million in fees that would have been paid in 2021 by restaurants and clubs to provide relief to an industry rocked by pandemic restrictions.
The move comes less than a week after Gov. Tom Wolf urged the board to take the action.
Board member Mike Negra, a Republican appointed by former Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, voted against the move, saying that the LCB was overstepping its authority.
“I cannot support this,” Negra said, adding that his resistance isn’t due to an unwillingness to help the restaurant industry.
“It’s because of the process” being used to waive the fees.
“This fee waiver is the equivalent of the PLCB legislating, rather than administering current law, and legislating is the role of the Pennsylvania Senate, House, and Governor,” Negra said.
The measure passed with the support of LCB chairman Tim Holden and board member Mary Isenhour, both Democrats appointed to the board by Wolf.
Negra said it’s “a stretch” for the LCB to waive the fees without legislation authorizing it to do so.
Isenhour acknowledged that the move was an “unprecedented step” but said it was justified.
“Following the Governor’s request last week to waive license fees and provide some relief to struggling businesses, the PLCB did its due diligence in evaluating our authority to waive fees authorized by various state laws, as well as the fiscal impact of doing so,” said Board Chairman Tim Holden.
“I have heard first-hand how much they are suffering,” Holden said. “How much they need assistance. And we are in a financial position to do this.”
Shawn Kelly, an LCB spokesman, said the board determined that the state’s Emergency Services Code gave the LCB the authority to take the action due to the governor’s emergency declaration.
License and permit fees being waived for these retail licensees next year include the following, which vary from $30 to $700 per fee: filing fee, license fee, renewal fee, validation fee, renewal/validation surcharge, amusement permit fee, Sunday sales permit fee, and extended hours food license fee.
Safekeeping extension fees, which start at $5,000 or $10,000 per year depending on the county where a license is located and allow a license to preserve an inactive license beyond two years, will also be waived in 2021.
While these license fees will be waived through 2021, licensees will still be required to timely file validation and renewal applications to keep licensees current and to avoid late-filing fees.
Chuck Moran, executive director of the Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association, said that the LCB could have done more to help.
“While waiving certain licensing fees won’t bring that much financial relief, it is a matter of principle to help those who are able to survive until then, and as we have said in the past, it is one piece of the puzzle,” he said.
“We would have liked to have also seen 2020 fees waived or returned to licensees, something that apparently the PLCB could have done.”
Moran said he hopes that when the General Assembly reconvenes after the November election that lawmakers approve additional assistance for the restaurant and bar industry.