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Hot button issue: Area lawmakers sound off on privatization

By Catherine Hawley, Reporter, news@wfmz.com
Published On: Mar 22 2013 07:00:00 PM CDT
Updated On: Mar 22 2013 09:33:11 PM CDT

Area lawmakers lined up on opposite sides this week as the state House passed a historic bill to get the Commonwealth out of the liquor business.

Area lawmakers lined up on opposite sides this week as the state House passed a historic bill to get the Commonwealth out of the liquor business. The Republican backed plan to privatize PA's 600 state operated liquor stores now moves on to the state Senate. Pennsylvania is only one of two states in the country that exerts total control of the booze business. But the reins of the liquor industry could soon be handed back to the private sector, the closest the state has come to unraveling its depression-era system.

Democrats held united Thursday against the plan to phase out more than 600 state owned liquor stores.

"It makes no sense to sell a revenue generating portion of the government for a quick one time hit of cash," said Lehigh County Representative Michael Schlossberg. "It's politically expedient and in the long term I think it's going to do a lot of damage."

He voted no to allow sales of wine and beer through supermarkets and other private businesses.

"We voted essentially to fire 5,000 people that make family sustaining jobs," added Schlossberg. "There's about another 1,200 beer distributors that employ another 5,000 people in the commonwealth, we put them at a massive disadvantage and at the same time we voted to cut another $250-million from an already revenue starved state budget."

The legislation would create 1,200 liquor licenses to be auctioned with priority given to existing beer distributors. It would allow them to sell all three forms of booze and allow grocery stores to sell beer and wine.

"It really injects competition into the market place which would also lead to greater choice and
convenience for consumers," explained Representative Ryan Mackenzie who serves Berks and Lehigh Counties.

He voted yes for the bill. He adds that current state store employees will be taken care of, and the plan does have reoccurring revenue.

"It's estimated to generate about $1-billion in one time revenue that could be used for things like education, transportation funding, more pension, paying off pension debt."

The bill now heads to the Senate side where Republicans and Democrats agree it will likely see changes.