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Senator's proposal doesn't have formula by which liquor stores could be shuttered

| Thursday, June 20, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

HARRISBURG — Proponents of privatization would more favorably view a Senate plan to expand private sales of wine and liquor if it contained firm dates for eliminating Pennsylvania's control of its liquor system, lawmakers say.

The plan by Republican Sen. Chuck McIlhinney of Bucks County allows nearly 14,000 existing liquor licensees to buy permits to sell wine and liquor. Those licensees range from beer distributors to restaurants and grocery stores with eat-in facilities, which can sell beer.

The plan includes no formula for closing 605 state liquor stores and contains a two-year study to determine the fate of the state-controlled wholesale system.

“I want to see some kind of commonsense timeline to phase us out of the business,” said Sen. Randy Vulakovich, a Shaler Republican, even if that's six or seven years.

The Senate plan differs sharply from a House-passed Republican bill that's ”much more inclined toward privatization,” said J. Wesley Leckrone, a political science professor at Widener University. The House bill phases out state stores and removes the state from the wholesale business. It allows wine in grocery stores.

The Legislature is working against the clock, facing a constitutional deadline of June 30 to pass a budget and hopefully wrap up other major bills before summer recess.

Given vast differences between the liquor proposals, Leckrone doubts lawmakers will reach a compromise.

“They've been arguing about this issue for decades,” he said. Gov. Tom Corbett is the third Republican governor to push for it.

Though Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware County, has said McIlhinney's plan doesn't have the votes needed for passage, “there's some reason to believe” it will pass the chamber, said Christopher Borick, a political science professor at Muhlenberg College.

“They may want to get something out,” Borick said — though getting the House to approve the bill is a different story, he said.

McIlhinney's plan is not in bill form, Senate staffers say. The Senate Law and Justice Committee is expected to consider it next week.

The committee worked hard but “I'm disappointed there's no privatization in there,” Vulakovich said.

“Give me a date when we are no longer in this business, and I'd certainly consider it,” said Rep. Mike Reese, R-Mt. Pleasant Township.

Reese said his constituents who vacation in other states periodically ask why Pennsylvania can't sell wine and beer in supermarkets as other places do.

House Majority Whip Stan Saylor, R-York County, said he'll support legislation that “absolutely puts an end to the state government's monopoly on liquor and wine.”

This plan leaves “nonelected bureaucrats” purchasing wine and liquor for consumers, Saylor said.

Some senators, such as Elder Vogel, R-Beaver County, remain undecided.

“There are some good points,” Vogel said. “There are some things I disagree with. It's a rough draft.”

Vulakovich noted McIlhinney said he is open to amendments, though he added, “It's kind of hard to write an amendment when you don't have a bill.”

Sen. Kim Ward, R-Westmoreland, said she would vote for it.

“It's a start,” Ward said. “I'm hopeful that at least some form of privatization will get done.”

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

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