Count The Ways: Corbett’s Liquor Reform Is Right For Pennsylvania

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Pennsylvania consumers should love Gov. Tom Corbett’s proposal for getting the state out of the liquor business.

The number of retail outlets would increase dramatically, with stores selling liquor and wine doubling to 1,200 plus unlimited licenses for groceries and other outlets to sell wine and beer. It would become far more convenient to pick up a six-pack of beer or a bottle of wine while doing other shopping. Because Pennsylvania no longer would have a stranglehold on the wholesale operation, some of the stores are likely to feature brands — and prices — that haven’t been available before. And, when it’s time to buy in bulk for a big party or wedding, there would be no need to sneak across the state line to get a good value.

Pennsylvanians who think state government is too big should love Mr. Corbett’s proposal.

It would put an entire industry back in private hands where it belongs, freeing the state from the responsibility of selling liquor and wine. Yes, the 3,500 employees who work in LCB stores now would lose their jobs, but the private retailers who would take over the sale of alcohol are going to need employees, too, and the governor’s plan offers some incentives and support — tax credits for businesses that hire them, as well as education and civil service credits for the workers.

Pennsylvanians who worry that teens and intoxicated people can too easily get served should love the plan.

It would allow the state to turn its attention to its proper role of enforcement. The governor’s package significantly increases fines for selling to minors and those who are visibly intoxicated and it calls for mandatory minimum license suspensions for businesses convicted of more than one offense. At the same time, Mr. Corbett wants to increase funding for enforcement efforts by the state police and the Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement, and he would require any alcohol retailer to use ID scanners to ascertain the ages of young customers before every sale.

Even Pennsylvania public schools should love the governor’s plan.

He proposes using the one-time fees that would be raised by the sale of wholesale and retail licenses — an estimated $1 billion — to create new educational grants to enhance school safety, early education programs (which suffered under previous Corbett budgets) and programs focused on science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The suggestion that the governor is improperly linking liquor sales and education is off base — these grants would be on top of basic educational subsidies and not instead of anything currently provided by the state.

Finally, Pennsylvanians who see their state as a political and social backwater compared to others should love this plan.

Its enactment would mean that it joins the overwhelming majority of states, which leave the sale of beer, wine and spirits in the hands of private merchants, a class of Americans supported and defended by the Republican Party. It also would mean reducing this particularly unnecessary reach of the nanny state, another objective of Republican philosophy. With Republicans in control of Pennsylvania’s House, Senate and governor’s office, this reform would accomplish for them one of the enlightened gains they have espoused as a party since the days of Dick Thornburgh.

For decades, retrograde special interests have fought hard against privatizing the LCB. Well, those days are over. One constant has been the desire of average Pennsylvanians — the people who matter — to shake off the hangover of a government monopoly rooted in post-Prohibition yet entrenched in modern times.

This is the day for lawmakers to make it happen, that rare moment when one party — the Republicans — hold all the votes. Either they prove that they can begin to reshape Pennsylvania as a progressive state or surrender their legitimacy to lead.