Letter to the Editor: ISSU President Fires Back at Oberlander on Liquor Privitization
Recently, Rep. Donna Oberlander responded to our commentary on the passage, and subsequent veto, of House Bill 466 which would have divested and privatized the current liquor distribution system in Pennsylvania (Avoiding Liquor Privatization Disaster).
We appreciate that Rep. Oberlander respects our opinion on this contentious issue and, likewise, we respect her opinion and position as well. However, there are two specific references in her commentary (The State Needs Out of the State Store Business) that we are compelled to respond to – taxes and convenience.
In her response, when discussing alcohol prices, Rep. Oberlander said, “part of the Washington plan included steep hikes in alcohol taxes, whereas taxes in Pennsylvania would remain the same…” That is simply not accurate.
The tax structure under HB 466 not only sought to protect current revenue from liquor sales but was designed to generate an additional $220 million annually. Under HB 466, as amended by the Senate and passed by both legislative chambers, Pennsylvania’s consumers would have experienced even more dramatic price increases than experienced under the Washington privatization model.
In fact, in the days ahead of the vote on HB 466, Senator Chuck McIlhinney, who is the Republican Chair of the Senate Committee charged with drafting the Senate version of liquor privatization, publicly announced that prices would definitely increase under the plan because it contained additional taxes on liquor and wine.
On a Harrisburg area news program (Face the State, CBS 21, 6/28/15) and again during the Senate Law and Justice Committee meeting where the bill was amended (6/28/15), Senator McIlhinney clearly pointed out that the state could not divest the current liquor system, maintain current revenue and generate an additional $220 million without expecting the cost of liquor and wine to increase dramatically.
With respect to convenience, consider the comments made by Senator Joseph Scarnati who authored the Senate amendment to HB 466. During the Senate Law and Justice Committee meeting where the bill was considered, Senator Scarnati admitted the following: “Constituents in my district, a very rural area, may ultimately see less convenience…”
Admittedly, ISSU and our members have a vested interest in the outcome of this legislation. But, as Rep. Oberlander correctly observed, so do all of you.
If you want to know the facts about House Bill 466 and liquor privatization under that plan, listen to what the Republican senators who drafted the plan had to say about the legislation. Listen to what Senator Scarnati said about convenience. Listen to what Senator McIlhinney said about prices.
If you do, you will realize that House Bill 466 was not about better selection, cheaper prices and improved convenience and you will agree that the legislation was bad for the consumers, bad for the taxpayers and bad for our communities.
With liquor privatization cited as a legislative priority by a mere 2% of voters in the most recent polling data (Franklin and Marshall College Poll; June 2015), it is abundantly clear that liquor is not an issue that dominates conversation around the family dinner table. It is now time put liquor privatization to rest and address the issues identified by the remaining 98% of voters as important to them – issues that have a real impact on the lives and livelihoods of all Pennsylvanians, drinkers and non-drinkers alike. Grabbing a bottle of Captain Morgan when they purchase a box of Captain Crunch is not one of those priorities.
Submitted by Michael Troyan – President, Independent State Store Union (ISSU)
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