Liquor privatization faces key vote
HARRISBURG - One of the first major votes of this legislative session is scheduled for today, when a House committee considers Gov. Tom Corbett's proposal to privatize the state-owned liquor system.
The Liquor Control Committee will meet to vote on the governor's plan to get rid of roughly 600 state stores as introduced by House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-28, Pittsburgh. The committee vote will be watched for signs of momentum behind one of Corbett's top priorities in the Republican-controlled Legislature.
At least four amendments may be offered to that bill, committee aides said.
One of the issues being weighed by the committee is the dual role of state stores and emerging private retail stores during a time of transition, said Turzai spokesman Stephen Miskin Friday.
"Nothing is going to change overnight," he said.
The state would auction off 1,200 private wine and spirits retail licenses over four years and allow grocery stores, convenience stores and pharmacies and beer distributors to sell beer and wine under Corbett's proposal.
An amendment by Turzai would give beer distributors first refusal on bidding for the 1,200 wine and spirits licenses for up to one year. These licenses would be allocated by county, based on the number of beer distributors in each.
Corbett and Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley have spent the past few weeks stumping for this proposal, which also calls for distributing $1 billion in anticipated liquor sale proceeds over four years to create a new block grant program for public schools. Schools could use the money for school safety, early education programs, individual learning and science and math education.
A coalition of business groups urged action on the bill last week.
"Pennsylvania consumers have told us that they want to be able to purchase beer and wine in grocery stores and in convenience stores," said Gene Barr, president of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry.
Meanwhile, members of United Food and Commercial Workers Union 1776 are visible many days lobbying against the proposal at the Capitol. Clad in yellow shirts, the union represents a large number of state store employees.
"Prices will go up," said UFCW President Wendell Young IV at a recent House Democratic Policy Committee hearing. "We know this because it has happened in every other state that has gone down this path."
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