Wolf says Pa. will waive liquor license fees for bars, restaurants struggling under pandemic

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    The Wolf administration announced Thursday that it will waive liquor license fees for Pennsylvania bars and restaurants that have been struggling to keep their doors open during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    In a statement, the administration said it’s working with the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board to waive “standard” licensing fees through 2021, starting next Jan. 1. The administration says more than 16,000 restaurants and bars, clubs, catering clubs, and hotels would see $20 million in relief.

    The administration’s announcement comes just a day after the Republican-controlled state House came two votes shy of overriding Wolf’s veto of legislation that would have lifted state-imposed occupancy limits for restaurants and bars. Right now, they are allowed to operate at 50 percent capacity while following federal and state safety guidelines, such as mask requirements.

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    “This virus makes gathering indoors publicly at full capacity dangerous. Still, we know that restaurant and bar owners in Pennsylvania are committed to keeping their employees and customers safe and the vast majority of these businesses have followed safety precautions and invested in new procedures and supplies, but COVID continues to hurt this industry,” Wolf said in a statement. “My administration continues to look for innovative ways that we can support the bar and restaurant industry. Eliminating liquor license fees is an important step toward helping bars and restaurants retain the capital they need to weather the storm of COVID-19.”

    Enraged Republicans in the state House teed off on Wolf’s announcement, calling Wolf’s pandemic-imposed “over-broad and onerous,” and “backed neither by science nor common sense.”

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    “Earlier this week, Democrats had a chance to join Republicans in providing real assistance to this struggling industry and its workers by overriding the Governor’s veto … but instead too many of them sold their votes for today’s half measure of help that does not even take effect until next year should it be adopted by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board,” House Republican spokesman Jason Gottesman said in a statement.

    Gottesman accused Hosue Democrats of “blindly following this governor’s misguided mandates.”

    Instead, “they should listen to the families, workers, and small business owners who have been devastated by his overbroad and inconsistent shutdown and stand ready to balance safety and mitigation with a path toward normalcy,” Gottesman said.

    In a statement, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Beverage and Tavern Association, which represents saloon keepers statewide, called the administration’s plan a half-measure, and said bar owners need comprehensive relief.

    “Earlier this year, the Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association stated that a comprehensive package would be needed to bail out the industry and save jobs – including ALL licensing fees. We certainly hope that the governor means all fees liquor license holders pay in his definition of “standard” including but not limited to off-premise catering, Sunday permits, and small games of chance,” the spokesman, Chuck Moran, said.

    While licensing fee help is part of the solution, much more needs to be done, particularly considering the size of the industry and its role in the Pennsylvania economy,” Moran continued. “We would have liked to have seen a comprehensive package promoted by the governor.”

    John L. Micek
    A 3-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. An award-winning political reporter, Micek’s career has taken him from small town meetings and Chicago City Hall to Congress and the Pennsylvania Capitol. His weekly column on U.S. politics is syndicated to 800 newspapers nationwide by Cagle Syndicate. He also contributes commentary and analysis to broadcast outlets in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Micek’s first novel, “Ordinary Angels,” was released in 2019 by Sunbury Press