Carla Imler, manager of the Sheetz convenience restaurant at 1915 Pleasant Valley Blvd., took an identification card from a man who approached the cash register with a six-pack of Yuengling beer on Wednesday and swiped it through a scanner.
The device detected no flaw in the ID card and, with that, the man in the blue suit, Lt. Gov. James Cawley, smiled and told a member of his staff he could not take the beer with him. He had to return it to the refrigerated display case.
Cawley wasn’t visiting the store to buy beer but rather to put in a plug for Gov. Tom Corbett’s budget proposals that include closing the state liquor stores and expanding locations where beer, wine and liquor are sold throughout the state.
He said the plan will pump a billion dollars into education and make “spirits” more available than ever before to Pennsylvania residents – as it is in 48 of the 50 states.
Only Pennsylvania and Utah remain in full control of alcohol sales. The other states have moved into the 21st century, Cawley said.
Making alcoholic beverages more available – possibly to as many as 10,000 additional businesses – carries with it responsibility, Cawley said, and the Corbett administration is addressing potential problems in its budget proposal.
Places like Sheetz that sell beer and might be able to sell other beverages under Corbett’s proposals must use an ID scanner to make sure beverages don’t fall into the hands of minors. As Imler explained, the scanner will not complete the sale if the identification card is fake or if the purchaser is a minor.
Cawley said the penalties for selling to a minor will be severe – a $10,000 fine for a first offense and suspension of the store’s license to sell alcohol for a second offense.
He also said that the $1 billion from the privatization of the alcohol market will be converted into block grants to promote safety in Pennsylvania schools, introduce early learning programs, focus on having students meet reading standards by the third grade and introduce an effort to improve math and science education.
Privatization of the liquor industry received strong support from Louie Sheetz, Sheetz’ vice-president of marketing, who said the 1915 Pleasant Valley Blvd. store is the biggest seller of beer in the entire Sheetz chain, which includes stores in other states where beer can be sold.
He said that store was built to experiment with different ideas, including beer sales. It was also the first store to sell pizza, premade sandwiches and other items that are now staples in the chain.
The store, Louie Sheetz said, handles 2,000 beer transactions each week, and he said beer sales have become a “great part of the business.”
If the governor’s plan is accepted by the General Assembly, the possibility of beer sales at every Sheetz store will be studied, he said.
Following the stop at Sheetz, Cawley met with 40-plus members of the Blair County Chamber of Commerce Legislative Action Committee at The Casino at Lakemont Park.
Cawley talked with the committee, which includes representatives of private business, politicians, political officials, educators and economic development personnel, about the alcohol privatization plan, as well as other challenges facing the state this year.
He noted that the budget contains a proposal to lower the flat tax on gasoline at the pump by 2 cents as well as remove the 30-year-old cap on the Oil Company Franchise Tax charged on the wholesale price of gas. That move would pump an additional $1.8 billion into PennDOT to upgrade the state’s 40,000 miles of road and 25,000 bridges.
The average age of Pennsylvania bridges, Cawley said, is 51 years, and he said improvements are due.
Another challenge is to reform the state’s pension fund and balance the budget.
Cawley told chamber members that when the Corbett administration assumed office, there was a $4.2 billion gap between income and expenses. He said the administration has “restored fiscal discipline” and by working with the private sector has seen the creation of 109,000 new jobs.
The Corbett budget plan represents “an ambitious agenda. … You should expect that. We are working every day to make sure the best days of Pennsylvania lie ahead,” he said.
Several members of the committee shared frustrations with Cawley at the meeting.
Lois Kaneshiki, a tea party member, complained that attempts to meet the Obama adminstration’s “core” education programs could end up costing the state $800 million.
Insurance executive John Forney expressed his dislike of “unfunded mandates” or requirements from the federal and state governments passed down to the local level without appropriate funding.
Blair County Commissioner Diane Meling spoke of saving Amtrak passenger service through Altoona, which Cawley said he supported and added that he would like to grow the service.
Architect Dwight Knouse of Altoona spoke of the need for more investment in school infrastructure. While the budget contains a request for $290 million for school improvements, Knouse said an increase by $40 million would have a $1.65 billion ripple effect through the economy.