Lawmaker proposes constitutional amendment to privatize liquor stores – CBS Pittsburgh

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HARRISBURG (KDKA) — A local state representative has proposed a constitutional amendment to remove the state of Pennsylvania from the liquor business.

This is the latest version of a very old debate in Pennsylvania.

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Do you remember the old state store system where customers went to a counter, used a catalog, and then asked a clerk to bring us the bottle of liquor or wine, since we weren’t allowed to examine the bottles ourselves?

Much has changed since that time, but the debate over privatization continues.

Today’s modern liquor stores are nothing like the past. Customers generally have lots of choices, a variety of prices and specials, knowledgeable clerks to answer questions, and a much friendlier environment.

But one thing remains the same: the stores are still owned by the state.

“I believe that the essential functions of government include infrastructure, education, promotion of economic activity, security, law enforcement. I don’t think selling alcohol is a core function of government,” Pennsylvania Rep. Natalie Mihalek, an Upper St. Clair Republican, told KDKA political editor Jon Delano on Monday.

Mihalek says no matter the improvements, the state should be out of the liquor business, so she introduced a constitutional amendment to let voters decide this fundamental issue.

“Now is the time to relaunch this discussion about privatization, because it’s really about what is the appropriate role of government,” she said.

WATCH: KDKA’s Jon Delano reports

Pennsylvania Rep. Dan Deasy, the lead Democrat on the House Liquor Control Committee, calls Mihalek’s amendment “reckless” because it doesn’t specify what replaces liquor stores.

Under Mihalek’s bill, the legislature would have 18 months if the amendment passes to design a new system.

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“Voters should know exactly what they are voting on and how to fill the hole in the budget? Deasy asks.

“The LCB (Liquor Control Board) transfers $185 million a year to the general fund. It provides a lot of programs, a lot of services, even to the police budget,” says Deasy.

Pennsylvania taxpayers have owned and operated the state’s liquor system since Prohibition ended in 1933. Attempts to privatize – or transfer this business to private companies – have failed, so Mihalek wants to try the constitutional amendment approach.

“Should our government be involved in the sale of liquor in Pennsylvania?” So that’s the fundamental question,” she said.

But Deasy and other critics say privatization comes at a cost since state-owned liquor stores bring in a profit.

“It brings in a generous profit after all expenses to taxpayers. So whether you drink or not, it’s a benefit for all Pennsylvanians,” says Wendell Young, who heads the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, which represents liquor store workers.

According to Young, privatization will increase prices and limit consumer choice from 5,000 bottles in many of our public stores to a few hundred in private stores.

“Most of the supermarkets that have come to dominate, supermarkets and big box stores in other states, sell a few hundred items. Larger specialty stores, which are rare and rare, may carry 500 to 900 items,” he adds.

Mihalek is not worried about supply or prices.

“The market will determine what is sold,” she says.

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The House Liquor Control Committee held hearings on Monday, but no indication at this time if and when the Legislature will send this amendment to voters.

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