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Poll finds support for liquor store sales

| Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013, 2:18 p.m.
The issue of privatizing Pennsylvania's liquor stores has been pending for three decades and has recently surfaced in Harrisburg.

HARRISBURG — Six of 10 Pennsylvania voters support Gov. Tom Corbett's plan to sell the state liquor stores and allow sales of beer, wine and liquor in a combination of supermarkets and specialty stores, according to a poll released on Tuesday.

The poll sponsored by the Commonwealth Foundation found support for privatization even among union households and in the more conservative counties that form a “T” in central and northern Pennsylvania.

Statewide, 61 percent favored privatization, and 35 percent were opposed, with the rest undecided.

Matthew Brouillette, president of the conservative think tank, said the foundation used a nationally recognized pollster that has worked for Democratic clients, including former Gov. Ed Rendell. The question did not mention Corbett by name or his plan to use $1 billion from the sale of liquor licenses for schools.

Corbett, a Shaler Republican, said he believes the poll will give his proposal a boost to get through the state House. The governor would close 619 state stores and auction 1,200 retail licenses. House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods, gave no specific timetable but said he hopes the House will move forward within two months.

Asked about reluctance from some Republican Senate leaders to embrace full-scale privatization, Corbett said: “Let's go forward. Let's not tinker around the edges. … It's time to change the system.”

The survey of 800 voters by Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates, was conducted Jan. 22-27. The margin of error was plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Among its findings:

• Support is strongest among voters who buy alcohol; 77-22 percent in favor among people who buy booze weekly. Those who never go to state stores oppose divestiture 58-35 percent with 7 percent undecided.

• The top reasons for favoring privatization: less government regulation, convenience, staying competitive with other states and better prices.

• Support was consistent among geographic regions except for Philadelphia, which opposes privatization, 50-46 percent with 4 percent undecided.

• People in Central Pennsylvania and a strip across the northern part of the state favored privatization 62-33 percent with 4 percent undecided. Historically, that has been an area of opposition.

• Union households favor selling liquor stores by a 58-38 percent margin with 4 percent undecided. Pollster Paul Maslin said the poll didn't break out how many union households had members of United Food & Commercial Workers, the union representing 3,500 state store workers which opposes the sale.

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

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