Even as he has moved to put the Pennsylvania Lottery in the hands of a private company, Gov. Tom Corbett is apparently renewing a push to privatize the state’s liquor system.
This time around, the ball is in Corbett’s court as sources say his administration is taking the lead role on the issue.
Many are calling the governor’s participation a turnaround from the past two years when Corbett voiced his support for ending the state’s longtime liquor monopoly and told lawmakers to draft a bill.
Just this week, meetings were held with the governor’s administration.
“We have had those meetings, absolutely. And, we are obviously excited it appears the governor and his team are ready to step out and take the lead on this important issue,” said Jay Ostrich, spokesman for the Commonwealth Foundation, a conservative think tank in support of privatization.
Many suspect an announcement about privatization will be made before Corbett’s Feb. 5 budget address. Last fall, Corbett said privatizing the liquor store system ranked alongside pension reform and transportation funding as priorities for his coming term.
Gene Barr, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, said he has been involved in talks about privatization and other issues with the administration.
“It’s clearly something that is tremendously popular. Not to be sarcastic but people would like Pennsylvania to move into the 21st century … I think itâs popular with the administration,” Barr said.
In the past, House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, a Republican from Allegheny County, spearheaded efforts to privatize the state’s liquor system. Last year, he pulled the plug on those efforts, acknowledging he didn’t have full House support.
Turzai’s bill called for replacing the state’s liquor stores by auctioning off 1,600 retail licenses. A projected sale of licenses was estimated to generate $500 million to $750 million.
But, the bill morphed to call for the state’s beer distributors to have the first shot at buying licenses to sell liquor and wine. Beer distributors would also be permitted to sell six-packs of beer; currently, they can only sell cases or kegs.
House Republican spokesman Steve Miskin said Turzai plans on listening to the governor’s proposal and then moving forward.
“We understand the governor wants to put his plan out there prior to the budget and we have been working with the administration. They have been briefing us in the direction they are going,” Miskin said.
“We look forward to a very strong privatization effort this session,” he added.
Wendell W. Young, spokesman with the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1776, said the latest rumblings are just an attempt to hype the issue. He said he has spoken with both Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature, many who say they favor the idea of modernization efforts.
“The far better way to go is the modernization proposal which would give the consumers a better operating system and more revenue for the state of Pennsylvania. Why would we want to lose that?” he said.
In the meantime, the House Liquor Control Committee will be voting in February on a bill that would allow for the direct shipment of wine into Pennsylvania.
The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board also has started an eight-year initiative dubbed “Convenience 2020″ to relocate some of its stores closer to supermarkets and teaming up with grocery stores that sell beer.