Poll: Jobs, economy more important to Pa. residents than privatizing state liquor stores

| Tuesday, May 7, 2013, 11:59 p.m.

HARRISBURG — A plurality of state voters continues to support the idea of selling Pennsylvania's liquor stores, but a poll shows it is not an issue that ranks among the most important to them.

The poll by Franklin & Marshall College released Wednesday found support for privatizing state liquor stores declined over the past few months as opponents — including the union representing state store employees — campaigned against it, poll director G. Terry Madonna said.

Support for privatization decreased from 53 percent in February to 47 percent in May, a drop that Madonna noted is more than the poll's error margin plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.

Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, who has made the sale of the state liquor system a goal, said Tuesday that he remains hopeful the Legislature will approve liquor privatization, transportation funding, pension reform and a state budget before recessing for the summer on June 30.

The Franklin & Marshall poll of 526 registered voters showed 47 percent of Pennsylvanians support liquor store privatization and 40 percent oppose the idea. Thirteen percent responded “don't know.”

Corbett's spokesman Kevin Harley said most polls have shown the popularity of liquor privatization much higher than this poll, often in the “high 60s and 70s.”

“There's no question Wendell Young IV and supporters of the status quo have waged a very aggressive campaign against consumer choice and convenience and keeping Pennsylvania trapped in the 20th century,” said Harley.

Young is president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1776, which represents liquor store clerks. He said Harley's comment is a “political statement from someone who's part of the failed strategy.” Young said he is “not at all surprised” by the diminishing support.

“It's the direction it's moving,” he said.

Privatizing the liquor stores “is just not that relevant to voters,” Madonna said. “It doesn't rate high in salience with voters.”

When asked to rank issues on a scale of one to 10 — with 10 as the highest — the poll found that jobs and the economy both register 8.9. Liquor was rated 4.9 and privatizing the lottery, as Corbett has proposed, came in at a 3.6 score.

In a separate question, more voters (31 percent) said the state stores should continue as is, or be “modernized” (26 percent), compared to 37 percent who favor privatization.

“If all the alcohol in the state dried up tomorrow, I would not care,” said Brian Tucker, 73, a retired graphic designer in Fulton County. “I'm not a drinker.”

Benjamin Casella, 29, of Sewickley said he sees merits to both sides of the privatization issue and could live with it either way.

“I am so used to the state stores, I have no problem with them,” he said. “Yet, privatizing seems like a good thing to do.”

“A large majority of people don't believe the state should be in the business of selling liquor,” said Stephen Miskin, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods, a key supporter. “A lot of misinformation was cast about recently.”

When Pennsylvanians look at the issue, they realize “it's about right and wrong and the core functions of government and a very serious conflict of interest” with the Liquor Control Board selling liquor and enforcing liquor laws, Miskin said.

“It's not a big issue with me,” said Clara Harmening, 83, of Turtle Creek. “(The state liquor system ) provides jobs. I don't like the fact this will eliminate jobs.”

Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media's state Capitol reporter. Reach him at 717-787-1405 or bbumsted@tribweb.com.

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