Burns: Suspend zombie liquor license auctions until compliance with law

Required commission and study still not done after five years

EBENSBURG, June 1 – Now armed with numbers that show a grave imbalance – with some counties overly saturated while others have zero excess – state Rep. Frank Burns wants to suspend the LCB’s auction of zombie liquor licenses until completion of a required report that has languished for five years.

Burns, D-Cambria, said although the 2016 law that authorized the auctions mandated that a Wine and Spirits Wholesale and Retail Commission be formed to study supply and demand in each county, neither the commission nor the report it was required to issue have become reality.

“Five years later, Pennsylvania is still ignoring the law when it comes to keeping its own moneymaking machine in high gear,” Burns said. “We have no commission, no report and – obviously – no widespread desire to know how this rigged system is negatively impacting existing liquor license holders. That failure is a complete abomination.”

Burns’ proposed legislation would end the auctions of these excess licenses, which he believes puts the LCB in direct competition with bar and restaurant licensees who want to sell their license but are being undercut by the state agency, until full compliance with the law that allowed the auctions in the first place.

“Bar and restaurant owners should be outraged that the law is not being followed,” Burns said. “And I guarantee you that I and many other legislators would never have voted for this law if we knew it was going to be a farce in terms of being carried out.”

Burns introduced a similar bill in 2019, but it suffered the fate of dying in committee – as often happens with measures that legislative leaders aren’t interested in moving through the process.

Now that Burns knows the number of licenses the LCB is holding for auction in each county – the triumphant result of a two-year legal fight the LCB forced him to undertake – the Cambria County representative hopes his proposed legislation will gain traction.

“As of January, the LCB had 949 zombie licenses at its disposal, ranging from 167 in Philadelphia to zero in 22 other counties,” Burns said. “Cambria is sixth-highest of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties, with 48 available. One of my concerns is for owners of corner taverns across the state, who banked on selling their liquor licenses for retirement, but now have an asset whose value diminishes with every LCB auction.”