Perfect timing: The Senate GOP must get the state out of liquor

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In Pennsylvanians’ long-running battle to be free of the vestiges of Prohibition, some moments have been ripe for change. But none has been so ripe as now.

With the Republicans, the party of private enterprise, running the governor’s office, the House and Senate, the state has a rare opportunity to cast off the antique government monopoly — one of only two left nationally — that owns and operates Pennsylvania’s wine and spirits trade. Despite this legislative advantage, the pro-business leadership that runs Harrisburg is about to blow its chance to put the retail and wholesale alcohol business where it belongs, in the hands of private merchants.

Senate Republicans appear prepared to craft a bill that would create only a modest level of private merchandising. Among the changes under consideration are letting beer distributors and some supermarkets sell wine to go and allowing consumers to buy wine online for shipment to their homes.

In the meantime, the government would continue to run, with state employees, Pennsylvania’s wine and spirits stores. Note to Senate Republican leaders: You call this reform?

In March 2013 the House passed a bill spearheaded by Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Marshall, that, once and for all, would privatize the state liquor system. Gov. Tom Corbett, who promised to get government out of the liquor business, and the Senate should use the House bill as their model.

Democratic legislators, who live in fear of offending the state liquor employee unions, have been useless on ending the state monopoly. But the Republicans have the votes, the control and the business constituency to make it happen. Timing is everything and it’s now time to bury a dinosaur.

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