Image: Cross-border competition, higher budget request among lawmakers concerns for Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board

Shelves of merchandise at the Pennsylvania Wine and Liquor store in Seven Fields, Pa, are seen through the window Monday, April 20, 2020.

(The Center Square) – After a rocky year during the coronavirus pandemic, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board is hoping that it can get back on track this year. But some lawmakers are still seeing a lot of room for improvement in the way the agency is run.

The Senate Appropriations Committee spoke with board members this month as part of the annual state budgeting process. One area of concern was the proximity of some PLCB’s outlets to stores across state lines in New Jersey and Delaware offer similar products at lower costs.

State Sen. Steve Santarsiero, D-Lower Makefield Township, said New Jersey offers more variety in their stores and stocks more liquor than licensees in his district, and Delaware doesn’t have a sales tax on alcohol.

“What can we do to become more competitive?” he asked.

PLCB Board Member Mike Negra said it was trying to improve its premium stores to be more competitive.

“I think it’s important to not mirror grocery stores by trying to have as many different products,” he said.

State Sen. Jim Brewster, D-Pittsburgh, touched on his seven-point plan, introduced last year, to provide tavern and restaurants assistance to get through the pandemic. One piece of that proposal was enacted, providing $145 million in grants to the hospitality industry.

Another portion of his proposal was to temporarily increase the wholesale discount of 15% for liquor licensees.

“I think the lost revenue is another piece of the puzzle for the public for the industry’s recovery,” he said.

PLCB Executive Director Michael Demko said new software programs were behind much of the agency's increased budget request, saying they would boost efficiency and ultimately save money and time. The agency is asking for $113 million more for 2021-22 than it received for the previous fiscal year.

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