Burns to appeal Liquor Control Board denial of public information request

Legislator wants number of LCB-owned licenses available for auction in each county

EBENSBURG, June 21 – Vowing to press for government transparency, state Rep. Frank Burns will fight the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board’s denial of his request for the number of restaurant liquor licenses eligible for auction in each county.

“Frankly, I’m stunned at this decision by a government entity to be so non-transparent and less-than-forthright about the cards it is holding,” Burns said. “Secrecy like this is a big reason so many people lose faith in government. I’ll be appealing this decision because the state’s Right-to-Know Law means exactly that: We have the right to know.”

Burns, D-Cambria, believes the PLCB’s practice of resurrecting and auctioning off formerly dead licenses now in PLCB control has put the state agency in direct and unfair competition with mom-and-pop establishments.

Rather than needing to purchase a liquor license from an existing small business, Burns said, big corporations are simply waiting for the periodic PLCB auctions to scarf one up, essentially undercutting bars and restaurants who are also trying to sell their licenses.

Burns previously wrote the PLCB and the governor asking for a halt to the auctions until a legislatively mandated study on their economic impact could be completed. On May 10, Burns made an official information request to the PLCB asking for the number of licenses available to be auctioned in each county.

The PLCB’s official response to his request arrived this week and included these passages:

“If the PLCB were to publicly disclose the total number of licenses in each county that will be available for sale via auction in the future, it would create an unintended chilling effect on the market. As such, the PLCB treats the information you are seeking as confidential proprietary information, as well as information that pertains to the PLCB’s internal deliberations and strategies to implement and carry out the auction initiative … Additionally, the interests favoring disclosure simply do not outweigh the interests favoring the restriction of access to the information you are seeking in this instance.

“Accordingly, your request is denied.”

Burns said the PLCB’s stance proves his contention that the regulatory state agency is now acting like a big private corporation, one in direct competition with neighborhood bars and restaurants, and one which seeks to manipulate the free market to its own financial advantage and profit motive.

“You expect to hear terms like ‘confidential proprietary information’ and ‘internal deliberations and strategies’ from firms on Wall Street, but the PLCB is forgetting that it isn’t owned by stockholders,” Burns said. “It serves the people – and it should answer to them.”

Burns said he plans to appeal the denial to the state Office of Open Records, which has the power to overrule the PLCB decision.

Additionally, Burns has introduced H.B. 1544, which would suspend liquor license auctions until publication of the required study conducted by the Wine and Spirits Wholesale and Retail Privatization Commission.