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HARRISBURG, PA — Pennsylvania voters could ultimately determine whether state government shouldre main in the liquor business. A bill introduced the state House calls for a referendum on a constitutional amendment regarding the privatization of Fine Wine & Good Spirits stores.
The measure, introduced by Republican Natalie Mihalek of Upper St. Clair, would amend the constitution to add the following wording: “The state shall not manufacture or sell, at wholesale or retail, liquor."
"We are one of two states in the entire nation with a government monopoly on the sale of liquor and the only state in the nation to shut down the sale of spirits entirely during the COVID-19 pandemic," Mihalek said in a recent memo to colleagues.
"Amongst many other flaws in various aspects of our government, the pandemic exposed
our liquor system as outdated and the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board as inept. 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."
There are about 600 Fine Wine & Good Spirits stores in the state, according to the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board. During the 2020-21 fiscal year, the stores generated $2.7 billion in revenues.
Several previous attempts to privatize all or a portion of the state liquor store system have failed.
In 2016, Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed legislation approved by the General Assembly that would have mandated privatization.
The House subsequently moved legislation that would have allowed beer distributors to sell wine and spirits, allow private retail outlets to sell wine and spirits and privatize just the sale of wine in the state.
"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," Mihalek wrote. "The best way to move forward is by allowing our constituents to have the final say on Pennsylvania finally
entering the 21st century by ending government control of liquor sales."
The constitutional mandate would be effective 18 months after voter approval. The Legislature first would need to approve the referendum in two sessions before it would be placed on the ballot.
The bill currently is being debated by the House Liquor Control Committee. Mihalek is a member of that panel.