Testimony continues on plan to sell Pa. liquor stores

    A Pennsylvania House panel heard more testimony Thursday on a bill that would sell off the Commonwealth’s liquor stores–and more than double the number of wine and liquor retailers.

    First at bat in the discussion on liquor store privatization was Joe Conti, head of the state Liquor Control Board.

    He greeted the House Liquor Control Committee with pages of spreadsheets and charts addressing one of the biggest buzz phrases used by privatization backers: the state stores’ high pricing.

    Conti says inflexible pricing is due to state law keeping the LCB from offering discounts on products the way other businesses can.

    “We want to work on that. With your help, we can do that,” Conti said. “We can’t do it easily with the current proportional pricing section in the liquor code.”

    Wendell Young, a spokesman for the union representing 3,500 workers at state-run liquor stores, also testified Thursday about the professional expertise at the state-run stores.

    When one lawmaker asked if there’s any incentive for store employees to sell more product or provide top-notch customer service, he replied it’s the threat of being shut down.

    “I think the greatest incentive that these people have is that they know that there’s always a few people in the Legislature that want to sell this system,” said Young. “And they know that they are constantly under attack and they know there’s people gunning for them.”

    Young’s remarks were greeted with claps and hollers from the dozens of people sitting in the hearing room, who were wearing yellow union shirts.

    Both Young and Conti say their studies show the common argument that the state suffers “border bleed”-–people going to other states to buy alcohol – is more perception than reality.

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