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Saylor

A Senate proposal to loosen state-controlled wine, liquor and beer sales in Pennsylvania lacks support among York County's House and Senate delegations, with Republicans saying it falls short of Gov. Tom Corbett's vision for privatization and Democrats saying they're worried about the revenue the state could lose.

The proposal from Sen. Charles McIlhinney, R-Bucks County, would allow thousands of holders of existing beer licensees, including eateries, bars, hotels and distributors, to buy $8,000 permits to sell wine and liquor, loosening state control. Beer licensees would also be able to sell beer in a wider variety of quantities.

McIlhinney's proposal doesn't require the closure of state-controlled wine and liquor stores, nor would it require the divestiture of the state-controlled wholesaling operation - and that cost him the support of Majority Whip Stan Saylor, R-Windsor Township.

Saylor said the proposal, which is still being written, "leaves the state's retail store system open for a nebulous amount of time, thus preventing the private sector and our free market system take over as they should."

The proposal puts the state in competition with taverns and beer distributors, which could sell wine and liquor, he said.

Saylor said he'll support legislation that "absolutely puts an end to the state government's monopoly on liquor and wine."

The House earlier this year passed House Bill 790 with the support of most York County legislators, including Saylor.

That bill, which lacks support in the Senate, would privatize the state-controlled wine and liquor system, create 1,200 new private wine and liquor store licenses and allow thousands of bars, restaurants and grocery stores to sell bottles of wine. It would leave the state's beer sales system largely in place.

Rep. Mike Regan, R-York/Cumberland, said McIlhinney's proposal falls short because it "does not meet the public expectations that have been raised since the House bill was passed."

Dems opposed: The Senate proposal is tanking with York's Democrats, too, for different reasons.

Rep. Kevin Schreiber, D-York City, said the McIlhinney's idea is "a proposal, not a bill, nor have there been any committee meetings on it."

Legislators don't know the full financial impact of the proposal, "other than it could still leave a large hole in revenue."

"It doesn't make a whole lot of sense, from a government or certainly from a business perspective, to divest one of our greatest assets with limited concern to such large amount of lost revenue in an economy where we all face stagnant revenue," he said.

Sen. Rob Teplitz, D-York/Dauphin, said the proposal fails to replace the hundreds of millions of dollars the state brings in from the current system. That's been his complaint with other proposals, including the one that passed the House in March.

"That's my primary concern," he said. "The House proposal is fast and expensive and this one is slower and expensive and more confusing. So I'm not sure they are making progress if they want to try to persuade others to support it."

Teplitz said he wants modernization instead of privatization, and he's a co-sponsor of legislation from Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Allegheny/Armstrong/Westmoreland, to extend store hours and give the state Liquor Control Board more flexibility in pricing. It would allow the state to run the stores more like businesses "and in the end would generate about $100 million more (per year) than it even generates now."

Sen. Pat Vance, R-York and Cumberland, said McIlhinney's bill isn't available to read yet, and she doesn't feel comfortable commenting until she can read the entire text.

Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware, said he doesn't have the votes necessary to pass the measure and there are issues he would like to see "refined."

The Senate's 23 Democrats are expected to oppose the proposal, giving Senate Republican leaders little room for error in winning over the chamber's 27 Republicans if they are to meet Corbett's wish for finished legislation by July 1, when lawmakers expect to depart Harrisburg for the summer.

Even if Senate Republicans scrounge together enough votes to pass it, the bill will not make it to the House of Representatives until at least next week, leaving just a few days before July 1.

The proposals: A Senate proposal and a House bill take different approaches to changing the state's role in the sale of liquor.

In the Senate, Sen. Charles McIlhinney, R-Bucks County, wants to:

-- Allow thousands of holders of existing beer licensees, including eateries, bars, hotels and distributors, to buy $8,000 permits to sell wine and liquor;

-- Allow beer licensees to sell beer in a wider variety of quantities.

The proposal doesn't require the closure of state-controlled wine and liquor stores, nor would it require the divestiture of the state-controlled wholesaling operation.

The House earlier this year passed House Bill 790, which:

-- Privatizes the state-controlled wine and liquor system;

-- Creates 1,200 new private wine and liquor store licenses;

-- Allows thousands of bars, restaurants and grocery stores to sell bottles of wine. - The Associated Press contributed to this report. Reach Christina Kauffman at ckauffman@yorkdispatch.com.