State takes first steps toward liquor privatization – finally

A legislation panel last week approved several tweaks in Gov. Tom Corbett’s liquor privatization bill and those tweaks were approved by the state House by a 105-90 vote.

The bill to eventually phase out state-controlled liquor stores now moves to the state Senate, a much steeper approval hill.

Significantly, existing beer distributors will get first crack at liquor and wine licenses and the sale of wine would be expanded in grocery stores under the revisions approved by the panel.

The state’s 1,200 beer distributors would be given one year to decide whether they want to buy a license to sell wine, a liquor license or both. The fees would range up to $37,500 and to $60,000 for liquor licenses.

After that, the remaining licenses would be offered to other buyers at much higher fees and the 600 state stores would be gradually reduced in each county as the licenses are sold.

Just as significantly, the thousands of state employees who would lose their jobs would be given preferential treatment for other state hiring, grants for additional education and a two-year tax credit would be provided to private employers who hire them.

As we’ve said all along, we would think those workers would have a leg up on jobs in private liquor stores anyway, but these provisions assure that.

So the liquor privatization has cleared its first major hurdles. The changes seem logical and understandable and give the beer distributors some possibilities to be a part of the liquor store transition.

In Pennsylvania one of only two states with a state-run liquor system that counts for progress.