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Pa. majority leader says House will pass liquor privatization bill

| Tuesday, Feb. 10, 2015, 4:25 p.m.
Rep. Dave Reed believes the Pennsylvania House of Representatives is ready to support liquor store privatization.
Steph Chambers | Trib Total Media
Rep. Dave Reed believes the Pennsylvania House of Representatives is ready to support liquor store privatization.
The issue of privatizing Pennsylvania's liquor stores has been pending for three decades and has recently surfaced in Harrisburg.
The issue of privatizing Pennsylvania's liquor stores has been pending for three decades and has recently surfaced in Harrisburg.

HARRISBURG — The Republican-controlled House intends to approve a bill to sell the state-owned liquor system and potentially reap $1 billion to deal with a looming budget deficit, the majority leader said Tuesday.

“We're very confident we'll be passing a liquor bill,” said Rep. Dave Reed of Indiana County, the chamber's new Republican leader.

Reed told Capitol reporters during an impromptu news conference that the bill is a “good opportunity to put a potential revenue source on the table for discussion” to address what others have identified as a deficit of more than $2 billion.

He anticipates a vote by the end of the month.

House Democrats remain firmly opposed, according to their spokesman Bill Patton.

“With the state facing a large structural budget deficit, it would be foolish to forfeit a valuable, revenue-producing asset like the wine and spirit shops just to get an uncertain amount of one-time revenue,” Patton said. “It's a bad deal for taxpayers, and the track record in other states that privatized liquor sales in recent years shows that it's also a bad deal for consumers. Prices go up and selection goes down.”

Reed and Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Marshall, met with Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf to discuss liquor privatization. It was a meeting “about the issue,” not any negotiation, said House GOP spokesman Stephen Miskin.

Wolf opposed the idea while campaigning. He still “does not support privatization,” according to his spokesman, Jeffrey Sheridan.

A Republican House and Senate during the 2013-14 session could not pass a liquor privatization bill, even with support from former Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican.

The bill lawmakers will consider will be close to one the House approved in March 2013, Reed said.

He noted that there are “new leaders in place” in the Senate, where the bill had stalled.

The GOP increased its House majority with the November election, 119 to 82. When the liquor bill was approved in 2013, Republicans controlled the House 111 to 92.

“We view this as a starting point,” Reed said.

It is a strong statement of the Republican majority's priority issue, even if the new governor opposes it.

Most of the revenue would come from selling the state-owned system.

Wolf supports “modernization of the state's liquor stores,” Sheridan said, which could produce money “to fund vital programs while improving options for consumers and making sales more convenient.”

Modernizing the system could include:

• Removing Sunday sales limitations.

• Ensuring competitive prices with other states.

• Opening small state stores inside retail stores.

• Direct shipping of wine and spirits.

Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media's state Capitol reporter. Reach him at 717-787-1405.

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