Gov. Corbett makes final push for liquor privatization before budget deadline
HARRISBURG — With 17 days left until the state budget deadline, Gov. Corbett is in the home stretch trying to clinch one of his top priorities — liquor privatization.
But opponents aren’t letting that happen without a fight.
Since January, Corbett has called for ending the state-owned wine and liquor stores, and creating a private licensing system for the sale of alcohol. Also since January, the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1776 and Democrats statewide have raised vocal opposition.
The contention continued Wednesday morning on the second floor of the state Capitol.
During a Corbett news conference Wednesday with nearly 100 supporters, citizens, lobbyists, business owners and several state lawmakers, about a dozen yellow-shirted union representatives gathered outside the Governor’s Reception Room, a reminder the 5,000 or so state workers who could lose their jobs if the state sells of the system.
One more time, Corbett called for the Legislature to put an end to the wine and spirits monopoly. He’s said he’s hoping to have a three-way discussion between himself and House and Senate leaders to hammer something out by the June 30 budget deadline.
“The people of Pennsylvania and the businesses of Pennsylvania, particularly small business, deserve the same advantage and opportunities that other states provide when it comes to buying beer, wine and liquor,” Corbett said.
One more time, Corbett asked why 48 other states manage to have private sales of wine and liquor while Pennsylvania does not. Utah is the other state that owns its liquor operations.
And one more time, opponents point to the 5,000 or so unionized state employees who could lose their jobs.
House and Senate Democrats have been steadfast in their opposition to privatization, instead favoring modernization to improve returns for the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board. From a political standpoint, Democrats say Corbett’s privatization push shows his misguided priorities, said Marc Einstein, a party spokesman.
“Gov. Corbett has decided to spend much of his time and energy on putting another 5,000 people out of work by privatizing the liquor system in Pennsylvania,” Einstein said. “Instead of focusing on creating jobs to boost Pennsylvania’s economy, he is trying to push through a liquor privatization scheme that continues to lose support.”
But having Republican majorities in both chambers still doesn’t guarantee Corbett will get what he wants. New legislation is expected next week from Senate Law and Justice Chairman Chuck McIllhinney, R-Montgomery, but it’s not clear how much that plan will mirror the governor’s.
And House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, has said he won’t support a bill unless its “substantially similar” to House Bill 790, the one his caucus passed in February.
The potential for a stalemate between Republican state lawmakers doesn’t seem to publicly worry Corbett, who said he’s cleared his schedule for early July.
“I hear people who say that ‘You’re running out of days,’ but days can be added,” Corbett said. “The one thing I know is we’re down to 17 days right now. In Harrisburg, in June, that’s a lifetime.”
Contact Melissa Daniels at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @melissamdaniels