Wolf Signs Bill Allowing Wine Sales in Grocery Stores

shutterstock_182793818HARRISBURG, Pa. (EYT) – Governor Tom Wolf signed a bill today that will allow take-out wine sales in licensed supermarkets, restaurants, bars, hotels and delis.

The House voted 157-31 on Tuesday in favor of relaxing Pennsylvania’s stiffly controlled liquor system, by sending a proposal to the desk of Governor Wolf.

The proposal allows grocery markets and other outlets to sell takeout wine and would formalize beer sales in convenience stores.

The controversial bill passed the Senate in December and allows takeout wine sales in licensed restaurants, bars, hotels, supermarkets and delis. The bill allows around 14,000 holders of takeout beer licenses to sell six-packs of beer and up to four bottles of wine per customer.

“This legislation was a compromise in the true sense,” said Rep. Donna Oberlander, R-Armstrong/Clarion/Forest. “It contains a historic first step toward full privatization by giving consumers additional choices in where and when to buy their products, but also keeps state stores open. The measure also seeks to raise much-needed state revenue, up to $150 million, that will help with our budgetary needs. I am pleased with the bipartisan support of this legislation and hope this signals more compromise and bipartisanship in the coming weeks.”

Previous reports indicate that the bill will not affect sales of hard liquor or force the shutdown of Pennsylvania’s nearly 600 state-owned stores, although it could undercut the finances of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board.

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Rep. R. Lee James, R-Venango, voted in favor of the bill and said it is a major deal for Pennsylvanians.

“Because of some of the aspects of it, it will be much better for Pennsylvania,” James said.

James said the bill is expected to add $147 million in new revenue to the general fund in its first year, and $60-70 million in subsequent years.

However, some officials worry that Pennsylvania will head the same was as states like Iowa and West Virginia that have outsourced the sale of wine and lost the whole asset to the private sector. Iowa underwent a 25 percent drop in revenues to the state three years after wine sales were privatized.

“This legislation would worsen the state’s current fiscal crisis and destroy a valuable revenue-producing asset,” said Wendell W. Young IV, President, UFCW PA Wine and Spirits Local 1776. “Wine privatization would only further increase our structural budget deficit, leaving taxpayers to hold the bag for years to come.”

Young said the bill would not generate any revenue for the Commonwealth. According to analysis by Public Finance Management (PFM), commissioned by former Gov. Tom Corbett, the state would need to come up with $408 million in new revenue annually to make privatization fiscally neutral.

Wine accounted for 42 percent of total sales in the stores or more than $848 million in revenue in the last fiscal year. The most popular brands – those most likely sold by the big box chains – accounted for approximately $518 million of total wine sales.

“This privatization proposal will begin draining dollars from the state immediately, and by reducing foot traffic in the Wine & Spirits stores, weaken this asset,” Young said. “Modernizing the PLCB makes the most sense for Pennsylvania, especially given the state’s multi-billion dollar budget deficit.

“Instead of destroying this revenue-generating agency, let’s open more stores inside of or adjacent to grocery stores or beer distributors to improve convenience,” he said.

The bill’s supporters said supermarkets and big-box retail stores may purchase take-out licenses from the state or current holders. State-owned stores will be given more freedom under the bill in terms of setting hours and choosing which products to stock.

James said the bill will make it more convenient for people to purchase alcohol during holidays and other periods when liquor stores may be closed. State schools and certain organizations can acquire auction permits, which will allow them to use alcohol at fundraising events.

The bill will also allow casinos to serve alcohol 24 hours a day instead of 19 under the current law. Wineries will be allowed to ship products straight to Pennsylvania customers.

“It’s just making it easier on Pennsylvanians…to acquire small quantities of alcohol for personal use at home,” James said.


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