What role should Harrisburg have over both the retail and wholesale end of our spirits industry? This question has plagued Harrisburg for decades. However, it hasn’t caused much debate on main streets across the Commonwealth, as across party lines, Pennsylvanians support ending the debate and finally ending the monopoly the state has held over this industry. Our state-run liquor monopoly is an outdated relic that serves neither consumers nor taxpayers well. The Commonwealth remains one of only two states in the nation that claims a government monopoly on the sale of liquor, and despite moves in recent years to improve consumer choice, pricing, and the overall customer experience in state-run liquor stores, the fact remains that buying and selling liquor is simply not a core function of government.
Pennsylvania lawmakers have recognized this—and attempted to act on it—in the very recent past. In 2016, the General Assembly passed legislation to private the sale of wine and spirits in Pennsylvania, but it was vetoed by Gov. Tom Wolf. The House also passed numerous targeted reforms to the Commonwealth’s system for selling wine and spirits during more recent legislative sessions. Those reforms included allowing beer distributors to sell wine and spirits; creating agency stores to allow private retail outlets to sell wine and spirits, privatizing just the sale of wine in the Commonwealth, and creating an enhanced spirit permit identical to the wine expanded permit. In addition, the House Liquor Control Committee moved a bill that would have simply increased the amount of wine sold by wine expanded permit holders, a commonsense measure aimed at improving the consumer experience for Pennsylvanians buying wine and spirits. However, even those measures were met with opposition at every turn from interests with a stake in keeping the current archaic system intact. Indeed, ABC 27 just recently hosted a discussion of the issue on their program “This Week in Pennsylvania,” where Wendell Young, the President of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union that represents state store workers, defended the status quo with no regard to the prospective gained opportunities for Pennsylvania workers, consumers, and businesses alike. He claimed the system as it is designed now contributes $800 million to the general fund, but the correction was quickly made. Two-thirds of that figure comes from taxes, the same taxes that would be in place under a privatized system. In no other business do taxes equal profit.
Now, there is a creative solution to this stalemate. House Bill 2272, sponsored by Natalie Mihalek, who represents the 40th Legislative District in the south hills of Pittsburgh. This legislation would allow Pennsylvanians to speak directly on whether they would like to keep the existing government-run system in place. The bill authorizes a constitutional amendment that would prohibit Pennsylvania from manufacturing or selling liquor at the wholesale or retail level. Having already amassed twenty-eight cosponsors, there’s incredible support being signaled from the Republican caucus in the House. A September 2021 opinion survey from Susquehanna Polling and Research found that eighty-four percent of Pennsylvanians surveyed favor having more opportunities to make their voices heard directly on public policy issues, and supporting HB2272 is in line with that desire among voters.
As Representative Mihalek noted in her cosponsorship memo, “it has become clear to me that continuing to pass small steps in the right direction does not have the support, nor the will of both the Governor and his accomplices. The best way to move forward is by allowing our constituents to have the final say […].” To get this measure to our ballots, we’ll need the legislation passed through both chambers this legislative session and again at the top of the 2023-2024 Legislative Session. If these steps are taken by the Majority Leaders in both chambers, we could see this amendment appear on our ballot as soon as the Spring 2023 Primary Election. Please, visit www.americansforprosperity.ivolunteers.com and sign the contact official letter entitled “It’s Time To End Pennsylvania’s State-run Liquor Monopoly.” Finally freeing our spirits could be accomplished within the year. We look forward to that policy victory! I’m Ashley Klingensmith, State Director with Americans for Prosperity-Pennsylvania. Find us on Facebook by searching @PAAFP and on Twitter by searching @AFPPennsylvania.
Ashley Sisca Klingensmith | State Director | Americans for Prosperity – PA