Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board defends sudden store closures early in pandemic

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Pennsylvania’s Liquor Control Board on Tuesday defended the governor’s swift decision to close approximately 600 Fine Wine and Good Spirits stores amid the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When the governor decided to shut down, he did the right thing,” PLCB President Tim Holden said. “I don’t think revenue ever entered the governor’s mind – it was public health.”

Holden’s comments came after Republicans at a House Appropriations Committee budget hearing repeated questions regarding the impacts of temporarily closing the state-run liquor stores in mid-March.

That decision came with less than a 24-hour warning, Republicans complained, leaving consumers scrambling and crowding stores beyond what was safe. Other members criticized the governor for keeping the stores shut for nearly two months while residents flocked to nearby states, costing the state tax revenue.

“Absolutely I would make that same decision again,” said Mary Isenhour, a PLCB board member. “I think the health and safety of our employees and the health and safety of our consumers was the most important in a situation that we were all unfamiliar with.”

An analysis from the National Alcohol Beverage Control Association (NABCA) found that nine-liter spirit case sales declined 4.6 percent in Pennsylvania in June, while climbing an average of 13.1 percent across the 16 other controlled states tracked by the association. Some states – like Mississippi, West Virginia, Wyoming, Iowa, Montana and Alabama – saw sales grow between 22 percent and 55 percent.

Pennsylvania also saw double digit sales declines in March, April and May after the store closures.

NABCA’s conclusions mirror a report from the state Independent Fiscal Office that said June liquor tax revenue declined 5.3 percent.

It's not the first time Holden found himself defending the board's closure decision to state lawmakers. In May, he told the Senate Law and Justice Committee “there no question” that “we had to protect our employees and our customers.”

Isenhour reiterated the same sentiment Tuesday.

“Regardless of what Tom Wolf requested us to do, we made a decision that was based on the health and safety of our 4,500 employees across the state and our unknown number of customers,” she said.





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