State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Katie Meyer covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.
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As House tees up liquor overhaul, one eye on new costs

Written by Mary Wilson, Former Capitol Bureau Chief | Feb 21, 2013 11:23 PM
Thumbnail image for liquorstore.jpg

Photo by Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board website

With a liquor privatization plan expected to come before the state House soon, lawmakers are trying to pinpoint the cost of convenience.

Legislators and state police agree that replacing the more than 600 state liquor stores with roughly twice as many private wine and liquor retailers will require more liquor law enforcement.

“I think the issue is, clearly if you’re going to have more licensees, you’re going to need more feet on the ground,” said Rep. Scott Petri (R-Bucks). “And that’s OK, but we have to take that into contemplation when we review the legislation.”

State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan said in a budget hearing Wednesday that his most preliminary cost estimate is $5 million. He also suggested that the funding needed to increase liquor code enforcement officers would need to come earlier rather than later in any process to change the liquor laws.

“I think especially at the start of the law it would be important that we’re able to get out there and make sure that everyone understands what the laws are and that we’re able to enforce them,” said Noonan before the state House Appropriations Committee.

But Petri said he feared Noonan’s early cost estimate is far too modest, and turns a blind eye to the part of the Corbett administration’s privatization plan to create an untold number of licenses to sell wine and beer.

“Every grocery store, every convenience store, every big box retailer, and every pharmacy store could be a licensee,” said Petri. “So that could be at least 12,000 [licensees]. Maybe it’s 20,000.” Petri added legislators could look to license fees, or fines and penalties, to raise revenue for additional law enforcement.

Legislation to privatize liquor sales isn’t in writing yet. The most lawmakers have is a memo saying a bill will be introduced in the second week of March by the House Majority Leader, Mike Turzai.

Commissioner Noonan said, without knowing specifically what any changes to liquor laws would be, it’s really too early to say how enforcement personnel would be affected. Petri acknowledged the difficulty.

“Look, I’m not trying to push you because I don’t want you to conjecture, but we have a committee meeting scheduled for March,” he said, noting the Liquor Control Committee, on which he serves, “and we’re supposed to vote on something and this is part of the consideration.


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