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House reps in favor of privatizing state stores

| Saturday, March 23, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
state Sen. Elder Vogel Jr., 56, who is seeking re-election in the 47th District that includes parts of Allegheny, Beaver and Lawrence counties.

HARRISBURG — Butler County's House delegation helped pass a House bill aimed at privatizing the state's liquor stores.

Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Cranberry, a longtime supporter of getting the state out of the liquor business, said he is willing to take less than Republican Gov. Tom Corbett proposed to help the bill become law.

HB 790 passed the House 105-90 Thursday night.

A modified version of Corbett's bill, without automatic elimination of the liquor stores, won approval this week in the House Liquor Committee. The bill the House OK'd proposes to phase out 619 state stores. It also does not include education grants, financed via liquor license auctions, that Corbett sought.

Metcalfe would prefer to see license revenue used for road and bridge improvements.

Providing block grants to school districts amounts to giving it to the teachers' unions, he said. “It's like throwing the money away,” Metcalfe said.

Grocery stores could sell beer and wine if they have an eatery and an “R” or restaurant license. Beer distributors would be able to sell liquor, wine and beer.

Rep. Brian Ellis, who represents the city of Butler and the central part of the county, was one of the 14 Republicans who approved the compromise bill in committee last week. Ten Democrats voted against it.

“I think ultimately the fact that a lot of folks didn't get exactly what they wanted shows the product was on the right path,” Ellis said.

Ellis said beer distributors in his district are split about 50-50 on the bill.

Sen. Elder Vogel, R-Butler County, said he is undecided and needs to look at the bill more carefully as it goes to the Senate. “I do not want to see anyone get hurt,” he said.

Rep. Jaret Gibbons, an Ellwood City Democrat whose district includes portions of Butler, Beaver and Lawrence counties, was one of 90 Democrats who tried to halt privatization.

A pro-union Republican from Bucks County, Rep. Gene Digirolamo voted with the Democrats in committee to kill the proposal and voted “no” on Thursday.

Rep. Dick Stevenson, a Mercer County Republican who represents northern Butler County, is a co-sponsor of the bill.

As for spending the revenue on education, Stevenson said, “That's a discussion we should have after this is done.”

The money could be placed in trust until that decision is made, he said.

Rep. Lee James, a Republican who represents Venango County and part of Butler County, voted for the bill, as did Metcalfe, Ellis and Stevenson.

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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