Corbett to unveil plan to sell state liquor stores — or thereabouts
By Brad Bumsted
Published: Tuesday, January 29, 2013, 1:00 p.m.
Updated: Friday, March 29, 2013
HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Corbett on Wednesday will announce a “full privatization” plan to sell the state liquor stores, but fellow Republican leaders already are raising concerns with his plan to raise $1 billion for transportation, education or reducing state pension liabilities.
“I suspect that'll be the discussion in the General Assembly, and everybody will have their perspective on that. But first our plan will be laid out,” Corbett said during an unrelated appearance in Moon. He will discuss his liquor plan Downtown.
Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson County, told reporters he wants to look at “modernization” of the existing system and expressed concerns about access in rural areas if the state stores are sold.
House Speaker Sam Smith, R-Punxsutawney, said he believes the House might be interested in a hybrid plan that would not involve sale of the state system in one shot.
“You're seeing some real differences and opinions within Republican leadership on what is an acceptable end product,” said Christopher Borick, a political science professor at Muhlenberg College in Allentown.
Corbett's spokesman Kevin Harley said it will be “a bold plan that encompasses what the governor has been saying for two years: that the state should not be in the business of selling wine and spirits and consumers should have the same choices they do in 48 other states.”
Only Utah controls retail and wholesale wine and spirit sales like Pennsylvania.
Supporters of a full privatization plan want government out of the liquor business, said Nathan Benefield, policy analyst for the Commonwealth Foundation.
“I expect the plan would go a step further than legislation discussed last session from a convenience perspective and allow consumers to pick up their bread, beer and Bordeaux in one trip,” he said.
Smith said one example of a hybrid that might find support would allow people to buy beer and wine in groceries while state stores sell liquor.
“We have a system today that is not perfect, but it works,” said Smith. He suggested changes would be phased in.
Scarnati objected to linking sale of the liquor stores to a transportation funding plan that would likely have bipartisan support.
“I don't think I'm linking,” Corbett said. “Maybe the people who make the votes and stuff are linking. I would tell Joe (Scarnati), if he were here, ‘Joe, I'm not linking, you guys are.'”
A Republican senator from Bucks County on Tuesday reintroduced legislation that would allow beer retailers to purchase a special license to sell wine and spirits. The new license would allow a greater number of retailers to sell liquor without changing the wholesale purchasing system.
The proposal by Sen. Chuck McIlhinney would allow beer distributors to sell different quantities of alcohol. The law prohibits distributors from selling beer in quantities of less than a case. McIlhinney's plan would allow some distributors to sell six-packs or single bottles of beer.
House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods, tried in vain in the 2011-12 session to bring a liquor store divestiture bill to the floor, but the votes weren't there.
Polls show widespread public support for selling the state stores, but the issue doesn't rise to the level of jobs, health care, transportation, taxes and education, Borick said.
Jack Treadway, retired chairman of the political science department at Kutztown University, said he believes Corbett's plan has a shot in the Republican-controlled Legislature.
But Tom Baldino, a professor of political science at Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, believes there isn't overwhelming support.
Democrats tend to oppose privatization based on concern for state jobs and union opposition, Baldino said. Some Republicans remain concerned about the expanded use of alcohol in a private system, he said.
Corbett presents his budget to the Republican-controlled General Assembly on Feb. 5 and will offer his transportation funding plan the same day in Harrisburg.
Linking issues could involve trade-offs of votes to secure passage of dissimilar bills. Former G ov. Ed Rendell, a Democrat, made such demands, typically just before the budget deadline of June 30.
It may complicate the issues “when we start taking hostages,” said Scarnati.
Staff writer Jeremy Boren contributed to this report. Brad Bumsted is the state Capitol reporter for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 717-787-1405 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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House Speakers Sam Smith's comment that the current system "works" is so laughably dishonest and inaccurate he should have been to ashamed to utter it. If the current system worked as he suggests there wouldn't be overwhelming support for the privatization of it. The only people this system works for are the union members who continue to provide slow, shoddy and rude service to their customers without fear of consequences as they gouge them at the register for a limited number of products. Like most everyone I know this resident grew weary a long time ago of not being able to get an array of preferred products that are readily available in every state that surrounds Pennsylvania and being charged exorbitant markups for the inferior substitute that are available. While liquor sales may not be as high a priority as "jobs, health care, transportation, taxes and education and other issues," resolving the issue in a manner that meets the needs and expectations of the vast majority of Pennsylvanians isn't nearly as complicated either. This issue and its resolution is not a partisan issue; majorities people of every political affiliation want the system privatized and if the Republican leaderships can't accomplish this simple goal before the next election then they should have no reason to expect our continued support and votes so they can work on the more important and complex issues.