Gov. Tom Corbett will release his proposed plan tomorrow in Pittsburgh to privatize Pennsylvania’s liquor system.
A press conference is scheduled for 2 p.m., and comes just days before the governor’s scheduled annual budget address Feb. 5.
Last fall, Corbett said privatizing the liquor store system ranked alongside pension reform and transportation funding as priorities for his coming term. His administration has remained tight-lipped about the details surrounding the governor’s privatization plan.
“It’s just time. We’re ready with the plan,” said Eric Shirk, a spokesman for the governor. “I’m not going to get into anything ahead of him.”
Some speculate Corbett’s plan will involve selling wholesale and retail licenses, and allowing the sale of beer and wine in supermarkets, convenience stores and big box retailers as well as permitting beer distributors and restaurants/bars to sell wine.
“It’s long overdue. It’s not just time for it. It’s long overdue,” said Charlie Gerow, spokesman for the newly formed grassroots Coalition to End the Liquor Monopoly.
“It’s really incomprehensible to me that Pennsylvania has remained in the dark ages for as long as it has. This is an opportunity for us to see a new day,” Gerow added.
Former Gov. Tom Ridge was the last governor to attempt to pass a privatization bill but was unsuccessful.
More recently, 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.
In the meantime, Corbett doesn’t likely have full support of any liquor initiatives. Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati pointedly left liquor privatization off of his list of 2013 prioirities today, which for the record did include attacking the state’s spiking pension bills and boosting funding for roads, bridges and mass transit.
Scarnati, R-Jefferson County, said he believes the state would be best served right now to pursue continued modernization of the present state liquor store system — like more Sunday or evening hours — which he believes could find $75 to $100 million in additional annual revenue for the state right away.
That, he believes, may be more achievable in the short term.
“Why do we want to continue to leave $75 to $100 million on the table that we could put into public education, or safe schools programs,” Scarnati asked. “Whatever we do in privatization (of liquor sales) it’s going to be over a period of time.
“I’d like to capture those dollars (now) and make the system worth more, which modernization does.”
He said he’d be fine with opening talks on both liquor tracks — modernization and privatization – this spring and seeing what is possible. But he indicated that as a priority for him, privatization pales in comparison with transportation funding and pension fixes.
“When we continue to work through tough issues such as transportation, pensions and a budget that doesn’t seem to have the revenues that the expenses call for, I just think that the emphasis needs to be on those top two issues,” Scarnati concluded.