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Liquor privatization 'working draft' planned for Pennsylvania

| Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014, 11:30 p.m.

HARRISBURG — Closed-door talks on liquor privatization continued on Tuesday among GOP legislative leaders and the lieutenant governor.

The next step is expected to be consideration of a “working draft” of legislation, perhaps by week's end.

But officials cautioned there's no deal — not even a framework of an agreement to get Pennsylvania out of the business of selling liquor and wine through the Liquor Control Board.

Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley is handling negotiations on behalf of Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, officials said.

House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, the Legislature's leading proponent of a privately run liquor system, called it a “good meeting.” Asked what that meant, Turzai, R-Marshall, said, “There will be another meeting.”

“There have been several productive discussions,” Jay Pagni, Corbett's press secretary said.

Corbett's Chief of Staff Leslie Gromis Baker spent time in Cawley's office after the lieutenant governor met with leaders.

Democratic leaders haven't been participating in the meetings, alegislative aide said.

Talks stalled in June when liquor reform legislation became entangled with a transportation revenue bill. After a $2.4 billion transportation bill won approval of both chambers in September, talks resumed on liquor near the end of 2013.

Pennsylvania and Utah are the only two states controlling both levels of sales. A Turzai-sponsored bill approved by the House last year would authorize up to 1,200 private licenses.

House Speaker Sam Smith, R-Punxsutawney, said in an impromptu interview on Monday that if any agreement emerges it will likely involve a gradual phase-out of the state-run system.

It's hard to imagine liquor divestiture taking place in “one fell swoop,” Smith said. Rather, he said, it's likely to be a “two- or three-step process.”

Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media's state Capitol writer.

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