Liquor stickler: Republicans have a chance to make history

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The state’s oldest living dinosaur, the government monopoly on the sale of wine and spirits, still walks the land. It’s time this anachronistic creature became extinct.

Gov. Tom Corbett’s recent assignment of Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley to sit down with House and Senate Republican leaders and develop a privatization plan is a chance to break the stalemate on the issue — although it won’t come too soon.

Three years after Mr. Corbett ran for governor promising to work to free Pennsylvanians of this post-Prohibition relic, nothing has changed. Now the governor is seeking re-election. Despite his party’s control in both chambers of the Legislature, Republican lawmakers have yet to deliver a bill to his desk that would transfer the government-owned and -operated system to the private sector.

This is not to say there haven’t been glimmers of progress. Spurred by Majority Leader Mike Turzai, the House passed a bill in March that would have privatized the state monopoly; it was the first time a chamber of the Legislature had taken the step. Three months later a Senate committee gutted the House plan and replaced it with far different terms; the reworked bill never came to the floor, casting doubts on Senate Republicans’ seriousness to scrap the old system.

Democrats, for their part, have been useless, defending a brand of government-run merchandising that is the only one of its kind in the country, save Utah’s. Their obstinance on the issue is meant to serve Pennsylvania’s liquor employee unions, not Pennsylvania consumers.

Mr. Cawley’s meetings with Republican legislative leaders offer hope that something might be accomplished before summer, but time is running out. Come fall, both legislators and the governor will be focused on re-election.

It’s time for Mr. Corbett to use his political capital to make good on his promise. It’s time for Republican lawmakers to replace lip service on boosting the private sector and reducing big government with real action. It’s time for Democrats to stop denying that most Pennsylvanians want the state out of the liquor business (66 percent, Commonwealth Foundation/​Keystone Politics poll, 2013; 62 percent, Quinnipiac University poll, 2011).

Even in progress-challenged Pennsylvania, it’s time to leave the 1930s behind.

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