Driscoll: Budget deficit needs addressed before considering privatization

HARRISBURG, Feb. 25 – A vote on Pennsylvania House Republicans' plan to sell off state liquor stores without first holding public hearings is imprudent and rash, said state Rep. Michael Driscoll today, especially while the state anticipates a multibillion-dollar structural budget deficit.

"With the $2.3 billion deficit currently facing the state, it is essential that we act with caution and forethought to ensure that a stable source of revenue, and a provider of family-sustaining jobs, isn't destroyed needlessly," Driscoll said. "Voting on this legislation, which would have a major impact on the state’s economic landscape, without first holding public hearings is simply irresponsible."

While the House passed similar legislation last year, Driscoll said that even small changes in a bill of this magnitude can have serious unintended consequences. In addition, Driscoll, who is one of 26 new House members this year, said each freshman member should have the opportunity to get their questions answered before any vote.

"If this legislation is as good as its proponents claim, then they should welcome the chance for public hearings to promote their plan to the state," Driscoll said. "There appear to be many misunderstandings and much misinformation about this bill, and I don't believe it is proper to continue the process like that."

Driscoll noted that the privatization plan currently being considered by the House has the potential to raise $1 billion dollars in one-time revenue for the state over the next two to four years, but would cost the state $190 million in yearly revenue each year after that. 

"Five years from now that one-time revenue will be gone and this plan will end up creating a considerable expense," Driscoll said. "State stores currently generate nearly $500 million in revenue for Pennsylvania's annual budget, and a few simple consumer convenience reforms could raise that number by another $125 million per year. I don't think it would be right to shutter this system without first doing everything imaginable to fix it."

Driscoll also expressed concerns about the nearly 4,000 workers employed by the state store system. The freshman legislator noted the privatization plan being considered by the House does little for current workers and is an unwise waste of resources. State store system employees have received highly specialized training to prevent minors from gaining access to liquor, he said, adding that private retailers would not be obligated to hold employees to the same standards.

The PA DUI Association and the Pennsylvania Professional Fire Fighters Association oppose the plan because of public health and safety concerns about the expected increase in alcohol-related crime, accidents and emergencies. Additionally, officials from the federal Centers for Disease Control have concluded that privatization of alcohol sales results in a reduction in enforcement of sales regulations, including enforcement of underage drinking laws.

The Republican-controlled House is expected to pass the legislation tomorrow.