Poll: 61% of Pa. voters approve privatizing liquor sales

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Almost every type of Pennsylvania voter -- from young to old, urban to rural, union member or not -- supports privatizing state alcohol sales, according to a new poll commissioned by the conservative Commonwealth Foundation.

The poll of registered voters statewide found 61 percent favor privatization to 35 percent who oppose. But there was more fervor on the favorable side, with 41 percent strongly approving the state getting out of the alcohol business to 20 percent who strongly support the status quo.

Majorities of all of those surveyed who shop at state stores -- from once a week to once a year -- approved of privatization whereas only those who never buy wine and spirits favored keeping the government in control.

"The more you go to a state store, the stronger you support the measure. That is a significant finding," said pollster Paul Maslin of FM3 Public Research & Strategy of California, a strategist for Democrat Howard Dean's 2004 presidential run. "The only group opposed to this measure are those who never go to state stores."

Supporters of the current system, such as the union representing 3,500 state store clerks, dismissed the study as a "push poll" designed to get the results that the privatization cheerleaders at the Commonwealth Foundation wanted.

"They should disclose who's paying for all this. That really gets to the bottom of what this is really about," said Wendell W. Young IV, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1776.

The polling firm conducted the study from Jan. 22-27 -- before Gov. Tom Corbett announced a plan Jan. 30 to privatize alcohol sales -- and has a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.

Gov. Tom Corbett's plan would create 1,200 private licenses for selling wine and alcohol, generating an estimated $1 billion that would be available over four years to all Pennsylvania school districts for use in school safety, early elementary education, programs for individualized learning and science, technology, engineering and math education.

The governor gathered with Republican legislators and school district officials Tuesday to promote the proposed schools grant.

"This would lead to better and safer schools without raising taxes," Mr. Corbett said. "Selling liquor, as I said last week, is not a core function of government. Education is."

All polling of the state shows majority support for privatization, including the latest Franklin & Marshall poll showing 53 percent in favor, which is basically unchanged from studies a decade ago. The Commonwealth Foundation's poll probes a bit deeper into who supports privatization and why.

In their results voters in every section of the state support privatization except Philadelphia, which is split 46 percent in favor to 50 percent opposed. Allegheny County supports it 69-28 percent, and the rural "T" in the middle of the state favors it 62-33 percent. Republicans favor it 69-26 percent, Democrats 52-43 percent and independents 71-25 percent. Men support it 62-34 percent and women 60-35 percent.

Unions and their Democratic allies in the Legislature have argued against privatization, in part because it will extinguish thousands of government jobs at the state-run stores. Even union members supported privatization, the RM3 study found, 52-43 percent.

A third of all privatization supporters, 33 percent, said they wanted less government regulation, followed up by 29 percent saying they want more convenience or the ability to buy wine and liquor in supermarkets.

state - businessnews

Tim McNulty: tmcnulty@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1581. Karen Langley: klangley@post-gazette.com or 717-787-2141.


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