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Private group to advocate for privatizing Pennsylvania liquor stores

| Friday, Jan. 18, 2013, 11:54 a.m.

HARRISBURG — A new coalition of citizens, businesses and groups supporting liquor privatization will announce next week a push for the state store divestiture plan Republican Gov. Tom Corbett soon will announce, a leading advocate said Friday.

What's been missing in the debate is the public's voice — reflected in poll after poll — showing support for getting rid of the state stores, said Charlie Gerow, a Harrisburg-based Republican consultant. Lawmakers only hear from special interests opposed to selling the state stores — primarily unions supporting store clerks, he said.

A Philadelphia Inquirer poll in October showed 61 percent of Pennsylvanians favor selling the stores.

“You will see something on liquor stores and on transportation (funding) before the (Feb. 5) budget address,” Corbett told reporters Thursday after an event promoting his contract to privatize state lottery management. It appears Corbett's plan will be released the last week of January.

“They can put together all the coalitions they want. The facts have never been on their side,” said Wendell W. Young IV, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1776, whose members include state store workers. What the effort really is about is “businesses trying to get their hands on the asset,” Young added.

“This (coalition) is to give the issue the citizens' push it's been lacking,” Gerow said. He declined to name people who will be part of the coalition. Gerow is not under government contract on the issue.

Legislation to allow the state to sell the liquor stores failed to get through the House last year despite support from House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods.

“The public wants real convenience, selection and more competitive prices,” Turzai said.

Gerow said Corbett‘s leadership is essential to changing the system.

But, Young said, “I don't think the governor getting involved changes that much.” He cited Corbett's “lackluster” record and poll numbers. “I think the PLCB (Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board) is doing a lot better (with the public) than the governor,” Young said.

“Wendell Young is a leader of one of the most powerful special interest groups in Harrisburg,” said Corbett's spokesman Kevin Harley. “He is trying to protect the status quo and prevent Pennsylvanians from consumer choice available in 48 other states.”

Pennsylvania is one of only two states, the other being Utah, that controls wholesale and retail liquor sales.

Jay Ostrich, spokesman for the Commonwealth Foundation, who attended a meeting with Corbett's aides this week on privatization, said with the governor's backing, “We think this measure will be unstoppable.”

Changing how beer is sold in Pennsylvania is expected to be part of the proposal. Ostrich predicted Pennsylvanians will be able to buy “bread, beer and Bordeaux” together in certain privately run businesses. Customers now buy cases from beer distributors and six-packs from bars.

Three stops are required for many Pennsylvanians to buy food, beer and wine.

Brad Bumsted is state Capitol reporter for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 717-787-1405 and bbumsted@tribweb.com.

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