Guv's liquor-fueled fight follows failures of others

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There are at least three things that Pennsylvanians have come to expect if not accept: fragmented government, fragmenting roads and needing to hit at least three stores before they can throw a decent party.

That last bit is due to our arcane -- and fragmented -- alcohol laws. The state clings to both its wine-and-spirits monopoly and its odd belief that citizens should buy their beer a case at a time in a separate building -- just not the supermarket.

Polls consistently show Pennsylvanians don't like ping-ponging about this way, but blocking change are the folks whose livelihoods are tied to our system of inconvenience stores.

Thus watching efforts to "privatize'' liquor stores has been a bit like watching the Pirates, which, as you know, is a bit like watching "Gilligan's Island'': There's no real expectation of any breakthrough, but you keep watching to see exactly how they fail to leave the island this time.

A tag team of three Republican governors has tried since the 1980s to privatize the liquor stores but not a single cork has been popped in victory.

The latest plan came last week from Tom Corbett and has plenty going for it. He proposes shuttering the existing 600-plus state stores and replacing them with stores owned by people who would pony up for 1,200 auctioned licenses. Mr. Corbett figures the state could reap $1 billion over three or four years and dedicate that to public schools.

More convenience and a windfall for education -- in another state that might be a slam dunk. Yet even fellow Republicans are dubious Gov. Corbett can find the votes here. One need only look at state history.

What follows is a sampling of some of the 397 Post-Gazette stories since 1990 that have included the words "privatize'' and "liquor stores.'' (We'll skip the 1980s -- when Gov. Dick Thornburgh tried his darndest to sell the liquor stores -- because the newspaper computer system goes back only to 1990. That's still a long, long time ago. It's so far back the Pirates were good.)

March 7, 1991: "... The Casey administration, Democratic lawmakers, labor unions and the Pennsylvania Council of Churches already have lined up to cut off the privatization plan.''

Sept. 5, 1996: "Gov. Ridge asks the Legislature to trade the state's liquor monopoly for an authority to provide funding for stadiums, convention centers and cultural facilities.''

Feb. 2, 1997: (Editorial) "... The poll of 1,200 residents, commissioned by House Republicans ... shows a majority of Pennsylvanians still ahead of [America's Largest Full-Time State] Legislature in the belief that private enterprise should handle liquor sales ...''

May 13, 1997: "Gov. Ridge's proposal to auction the state liquor system won't come up for a vote until September at the earliest ... He said the plan would earn the state $605 million over 10 years.''

Aug. 3, 1997: "Gov. Ridge ... has vowed not to earmark any state money for capital projects, including baseball stadiums, convention centers, welcome centers and tourist attractions, until his proposal to sell the stores receives a full hearing in the Legislature ... "

Sept. 24, 1997: "Gov. Ridge conceded yesterday that his plan to privatize the state-run liquor stores is dead for now, but ... "

April 17, 2007: (Headline) "GOP Panel Gathering Data For Sale or Lease of State Liquor Stores"

June 22, 2010: (Headline) "Bill Renews Fight to Privatize State-Run Liquor Stores''

Dec. 24, 2010: "Some 66 percent of the 1,584 people surveyed Dec. 6-13 favored dismantling the state's long-held system for selling liquor and wine ..."

March 6, 2011: (Editorial) "A Perfect Storm for Liquor Reform ... Fiscal crisis gives Gov. Tom Corbett a chance to do what previous governors have tried and failed to do ...''

Aug. 3, 2011: "Jonathan Newman, the former chairman of the state Liquor Control Board, said that 'the stars are perfectly aligned' to privatize ..."

Well, that last one was two summers ago, so the stars must have gotten out of whack. Still, some have hope.

So what do you think about 2013? If you think this is the year the Pirates break their 20-season losing streak, I have a liquor store license I'd like to sell you.

brianoneill

Brian O'Neill: boneill@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1947.


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