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Politicians jockey for favored liquor privatization plans

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Tuesday, March 5, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
 

HARRISBURG — Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley on Monday continued working with people on both sides of liquor privatization while the lead House sponsor of a privatization bill expressed confidence in his plan to “move Pennsylvania into the 21st century.”

“We're on the verge of making a significant change,” said House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods.

The House Liquor Committee is scheduled to consider privatization in two weeks, and a full House vote on a bill could happen by March 20. But it remains unclear whether a full-scale privatization plan, such as Gov. Tom Corbett's, or a “hybrid” plan, which keeps the state stores and expands private sales, will get the vote in committee.

“The governor has put forth a strong privatization plan, which I fully support,” Turzai said.

Committee Chairman John Taylor, R-Philadelphia, has said his goal is to move a bill that can win House support. Taylor could not be reached.

Corbett's plan would eliminate the 619 state stores and sell 1,200 wine and spirits licenses. Grocery stores and big box stores could sell wine and beer. Distributors with “enhanced” licenses could sell wine, liquor and beer.

Corbett would sell the wholesale and retail control of the business with a goal of collecting $1 billion for education grants to school districts.

Under Taylor's plan, state stores would remain the only outlets for liquor. They would sell wine in competition with 1,200 licensees for wine and beer sales. The bill would allow the sale of up to 30 beers at a time by bars, restaurants and any entity with a license.

Virtually any privatization plan would hit hurdles in the Senate, said Christopher Borick, a political science professor at Muhlenberg College in Allentown.

Incremental change is easier politically, Borick said.

“I can support any hybrid that gets the state out of the wholesale business,” said Rep. Mark Mustio, R-Moon, a committee member. “Chairman Taylor has done a great job in moving this issue forward and I am confident a quality product will move out of committee, through the House and then to the Senate for their review.”

Turzai could introduce Corbett's plan as a bill as early as Tuesday.

The situation remained fluid on which proposal or compromise would emerge from committee.

“It's always been the case with privatization that the devil is in the details,” Borick said.

Cawley has “systematically been meeting with stakeholders,” said his spokesman Chad Saylor. Cawley met with retailers, business leaders, grocery store executives, the leader of the union representing state store employees, the governor's staff and legislators, Saylor said.

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

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