Mike Turzai: Free the wine (for all grocery stores)


Pennsylvania should be out of the sale of wine and spirits. Here's another step toward that rational reality.

I read the March 23 Perspectives piece by Nicole Neily, president of Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity in Alexandria, Va., with interest (“Consumers on Ice: Pennsylvania’s Liquor Reforms Haven’t Addressed the Real Problem”). But I have to ask: Where was Ms. Neily when we were voting full privatization in the House on four separate occasions?

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed my legislation to privatize the sale of wine and spirits and eliminate the Liquor Control Board’s ability to sell wine and spirits on four separate occasions: House Bill 790 was passed on March 21, 2013; House Bill 466 was passed on Feb. 26, 2015; HB 466 was passed on concurrence on June 30, 2015, and put on the governor’s desk, which he promptly vetoed; lastly, House Bill 1690 was passed on Nov. 19, 2015, and sent to the Senate before it became the legislative vehicle for a “compromise.”

Everyone but the governor and certain special interests know that the state should not be selling wine and spirits. There is no rational reason for state government to be in the wine and spirits business. State stores of years past seemed like Soviet-era stores, with merchandise tucked away in the back. Despite some nicer looking stores, there is still this element of big government control. When Prohibition was lifted in the 1930s, Pennsylvania’s pro-temperance governor created the Liquor Control Board bureaucracy filled with restrictions and disincentives on sales of wine and spirits.

Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed full privatization last session. To accomplish what we did with Act 39 of 2016 — wine being sold in private sector stores and through direct shipment — required us to “box in” Mr. Wolf, as he fully supports the existence of the LCB system. When Act 39 was put in front of him, he had no choice but to sign this compromise legislation after vetoing full privatization. Mr. Wolf is still governor. He will still veto full privatization. So we are willing to offer another compromise.

House Bill 975, which I am introducing this session, allows us to “free the wine” in Pennsylvania. It is clear, after Act 39, that wine sales can be responsibly managed by grocery stores across the commonwealth. The proposal takes three more significant steps:

1) Gives all grocery stores — not just those with seating capacity — the opportunity to obtain a permit to sell wine.

2) Allows these retailers to buy their wine from private sector wholesalers, brokers and makers of wine, not from the LCB.

3) Eliminates any price floor requirements — either from the wholesaler to the retailer or the retailer to the consumer — that artificially inflate the cost and dampen competition.

Pennsylvania should be out of the sale of wine and spirits. My willingness to move Act 39 was a vote of faith that, once everyone saw the benefits of grocery store wine sales and direct shipment firsthand, the governor and others would be ready to finish the journey to full privatization, as we did in four separate votes in the House. As a further step, let’s get House Bill 975 on the governor’s desk.

Rep. Mike Turzai, R-Marshall, is speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.