Governor Tom Corbett has announced the details of his initiative to sell the state liquor stores.
Corbett’s plan would obliterate state control of alcohol sales by auctioning off the state store system and allowing beer and wine sales in supermarkets and convenience stores. The plan adds an additional incentive by directing that all proceeds from the auctions — which are expected to approach $1 billion — go to education.
Specifically, the plan would shut more than 600 state-owned liquor stores and auction off up to 1,200 wine and liquor licenses to a variety of retail businesses, phasing in private sales of wine and liquor over four years.
Last session, House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, pushed hard — some of his caucus members said he was unrelenting — to get a privatization vote on the floor of the House. Turzai looked to Corbett to help persuade the few votes he needed to get the measure to the Senate. But Corbett was silent on the issue.
Now, however, his taking the lead in a privatization fight could put it over the top in the House. But the Senate might be another matter.
The same day Corbett announced his plan, a Republican senator resurrected a bill from last session that would keep the state stores but make them more “customer-friendly.”
Senator Chuck McIlhinney, R-Bucks, said his bill would improve state laws regulating beer and liquor sales to provide new business opportunities for retailers and greater convenience for customers.
McIlhinney’s plan would allow beer retailers to purchase a special license to sell wines and spirits. The new license would allow a greater number of retailers to sell liquor without changing the state’s current wholesale purchasing system.
"There is broad agreement that liquor and beer sales laws need to be adjusted, but the complexity of the issue makes it extremely difficult to improve the law without hurting consumers, brewers, distillers or retailers," McIlhinney said. "Rather than dismantling the current system and leaving certain portions of the industry out in the cold, my priority is to create a plan that strengthens every link in the chain, all the way from brewery’s and distiller’s doors to the customer’s home."
Senate Pro Tem Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, said he would look into the benefits of both Corbett’s plan and the McIlhinney bill.
The Republicans hold a 26-23 lead in the Senate with some members, like McIlhinney, representing districts with large numbers of pro-organized-labor voters, making a privatization vote a near political impossibility for them.
— John L. Kennedy, for the Law Weekly