Pennsylvania May Get Out of Wine Business

House Committee votes to permit private and direct-to-consumer wine sales

by Linda Jones McKee
pennsylvania tom corbett
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett listed privatizing liquor sales as one of his top issues while campaigning.
Harrisburg, Pa.—For 78 years, since the end of Prohibition, Pennsylvania has been a “control state” regarding the sales of wine and spirits. The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) is in charge of both wholesale and retail sales of alcohol through its system of state-owned stores. Only one other state, Utah, has a similarly restrictive system. Several governors in the past 30 years have attempted to privatize the state stores in Pennsylvania, but to date all such efforts have failed.

Before his election in 2010, Gov. Tom Corbett announced that he considered the privatization of Pennsylvania’s state stores as one of his top priorities during his term as governor. On July 13, 2011, House Majority Leader Mike Turzai introduced the appropriate legislation, House Bill 11, to make it happen.

On Dec. 13, the Liquor Control Committee of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives took the next step, voting in favor of the legislation. This is the first time that privatization legislation has come to a vote, passed out of the Liquor Control Committee and onto the floor of the House of Representatives. The bill will be open to amendments and additional debate in the House.

House Bill 11 was amended by the committee to retain the PLCB state stores for sales of liquor, but not wine. Beer distributors would be permitted to sell beer and wine; private wine wholesalers would be allowed to sell wine directly to consumers.

Pennsylvania’s control system was established in 1933 by then-Gov. Gifford Pinchot. His primary goal in creating the PLCB was to discourage the sale of all alcohol by making it as expensive and inconvenient as possible for potential customers. In recent years, the PLCB has made some attempts to be more “consumer-friendly,” but many of those efforts have not been successful.

For example, a program to place wine kiosks in grocery stores was implemented in June 2010. At the time Joe Conti, CEO of the PLCB, described the kiosk project as “a great attempt to try to do something for the convenience of our customers,” but by last September the program was discontinued because of breakdowns in the cumbersome equipment and customer resistance.

Turzai firmly believes that free markets work, and that government shouldn’t be in the wine business. “The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board has proven how antiquated and out of touch the current system is; Pennsylvanians understand this and want change,” he stated. “The time has come to get government out of the alcohol business.”

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