Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett is planning another push to privatize liquor sales in Pennsylvania, and it’s not clear whether it will be different from or more successful than the privatization effort that failed to gain traction in the Legislature in 2011.
The governor’s plan is being developed by Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley. Cawley’s spokesman, Chad Sailor, said details of the proposal are being developed, and that “everything’s on the table.”
Whether privatization would make beer and wine widely available — say in grocery stores — will depend on the details. Currently there are a little more than 600 state stores for all of Pennsylvania.
Jay Ostrich of the conservative Commonwealth Foundation said that compares miserably with other states.
“If Pennsylvania were to go on the per capita national average on the number of liquor stores available, we’d now have more than 2,800 for our consumers,” Ostrich said. “When that’s translated to wine, we would have more more than 6,600 wine stores to choose from.”
But there’s one strong incentive for the state to limit the number of wine and liquor outlets that are permitted, even if the state stores are abolished: money.
The first proposal offered for privatization in the last legislative session called for auctioning off just 750 licenses, and with such a limited supply, estimates were that the state could reap a one-time windfall of up to $2 billion.
Franklin & Marshall College pollster Terry Madonna said there are a lot of ways to craft a privatization plan.
“It’s not all that clear that that expansion would bring alcohol into grocery stores,” Madonna said. “We’ll have to wait and see what specific legislation the governor would support.”
David McCorkle, president of the Pennsylvania Food Merchants Association, says his organization favors privatization, but opposes auctioning off liquor licenses to the highest bidder.
Corbett hasn’t revealed his plans yet, but he’s said to favor broad availability of wine, beer and spirits in the state.
Polls: Most Pennsylvanians favor privatization
Madonna says polling consistently shows most Pennsylvanians favor privatization of liquor sales, but they aren’t as passionate about it as opponents.
One of those opponents is Wendell Young IV, president of the union representing nearly 5,000 state store workers.
Young has fought the privatization battle before, and said he expects to soon see a supposedly independent coalition of people formed to abolish state stores.
“They’re not independent,” Young said. “They’re the same likely suspects of businesses that would profit from taking this valuable asset of the taxpayers that benefits all Pennsylvanians and turn it over to private enterprise for their personal profit.”
In the past, labor unions have joined religious leaders, groups fighting drunken driving and urban lawmakers to defeat privatization plans.
Corbett is expected to roll out his proposal before his Feb. 5 budget address.