Liquor privatization debate bumps Pa. budget talks, GOP leader says

    The Pennsylvania Senate’s top Republican is frustrated that lawmakers are taking time to debate liquor privatization as the deadline for the state budget draws ever closer.

    A Senate committee is getting ready to hold hearings on liquor privatization. Some might say the issue is ripe for discussion. But the chamber’s President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati says he wants to talk budget, and legislative leaders haven’t sat down with the governor’s office to start negotiations yet.

    Such a meeting is long overdue, said Scarnati, R-Jefferson.

    He warned that if some form of liquor privatization does make it into law this year, it will come at some cost to the commonwealth.

    “You cannot go in and shut the (Liquor Control Board) off like a light switch and it’s not going to cost the state budget something in this year and the following years. And we have to account for that,” he said Monday. “I’m fine to account for it, but we’ve got to start talking about the budget.”

    The budget is due in two months — and it may require some more tough calls, since state tax revenue is coming in below expectations. It’s about $200 million below estimate through the end of March; April collections aren’t looking strong either.

    But Scarnati has long been skeptical of plans to sell off the state liquor stores.

    And he said he’s not interested in rushing a liquor privatization proposal to the governor’s desk by the end of June, as Gov. Tom Corbett has asked.

    “We’ve got eight weeks. Eight weeks. And the last thing I want to be part of is creating another system that doesn’t work,” Scarnati said. “Let’s get it right. And let’s tell everybody who’s interested in this issue the facts about what it is. It isn’t just about state stores, it’s about beer too.”

    He said he’s concerned privatization would disrupt the business model of beer distributors and restaurants, and make liquor retailers scarce in rural places, including his own district.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal