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Do liquor sales belong in the state Constitution?

A lawmaker representing parts of Allegheny and Washington counties has introduced a constitutional amendment to privatize the state’s liquor stores.

“It has been 88 years since the end of prohibition, and it is time for this Commonwealth to modernize the sale of liquor once and for all,” state Rep. Natalie Mihalek, R-Upper Saint Clair, said in a report in Monday’s Williamsport Sun-Gazette.

The tactic of changing the state Constitution is credited to the strong likelihood that Gov. Tom Wolf, a supporter of the state liquor store employees’ union, would veto more conventional legislation. Wolf cannot veto a constitutional amendment.

We believe our laws governing the sale of alcohol are outdated. We believe that consumers in Pennsylvania would benefit from the greater array of choices and convenience that private enterprise would bring to liquor sales. More importantly, we believe that entrepreneurs and, in the long run, workers would benefit from a more competitive, diverse market.

While we understand and sympathize with the pro-reform lawmakers’ latest approach to circumventing a governor who has been steadfast in opposing privatization, we are not convinced that the state Constitution needs to weigh in on one specific category of retail.

We must ask, before we rewrite the state Constitution, if proponents of privatization have done all they can to address and assuage the fears of the unionized liquor store workers. While we are significantly less concerned with how a change would impact the union itself, we must ask what impact privatization will have on the wages and benefits of hard-working Pennsylvanians and how immediate will that impact be felt.

Perhaps if the supporters of privatization can adequately address such concerns, the liquor store workers and the governor might be more open to compromise.

And while we also aren’t saying a constitutional amendment should be taken off the table entirely, seeking a compromise that allows decently-paid Pennsylvanians to continue to be decently paid seems more reasonable to us.

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