A plan to privatize the sale of wine and spirits and gradually phase out state stores has passed the Pennsylvania House.

Under the plan, grocery stores could sell wine; beer distributors could sell wine and liquor; and, after the first year of implementation, licenses to sell wine and liquor would be up for sale for other private entities such as big-box stores.

The plan allows for the phasing out of state wine and spirits stores as private retailers obtain licenses.
House Democrats oppose them measure – among them, Rep. Bill Keller of Philadelphia, who says he's skeptical privatization would result in a better deal for consumers.

"I'll make a prediction — that in five years, we will replace our public monopoly with a private license monopoly, because as all good businessmen know, big business buys out small business," Keller said.

But the Republican drafter of the plan says he thinks the measure is an attempt to respond to pressure from consumers for more convenience while doing the least amount of damage to those already invested in the current system

Rep. John Taylor, R-Philadelphia, says the privatization proposal makes several concessions to beer distributors – giving them first crack at licenses to sell wine and spirits before opening those licenses up for sale to other private entities after a year.

"No particular group is more benefited from this legislation than beer distributors, and they oppose it," he said. "And they oppose it not because of what we did for them, but they oppose it because of what we did for others."

On to the Senate

The legislation will now move to the state Senate where it faces a lukewarm reception.

Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi noted that while House Republicans have been working on liquor privatization for more than two years, his caucus hasn't been pressing the issue.

"It's not something that has been an item of active interest and discussion in the Senate," said Pileggi, R-Delaware. "We have not moved a Senate bill in the last session or so far in this session on a privatization issue."

Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati has said he would rather pursue changes to the existing state wine and spirits stores to make them more profitable, instead of trying to phase them out. In fact, the GOP chairman of the Senate committee overseeing liquor laws has proposed a plan designed to accomplish such a goal.

Pileggi says his caucus hasn't had a discussion yet on whether it would support a proposal that seeks to get rid of the state stores.