Corbett proposes selling liquor stores to raise education funds

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Gov. Tom Corbett announced plans today to privatize alcohol sales in the state -- allowing supermarkets and other outlets to sell beer and wine -- which he said would generate $1 billion to fund public education.

Under the proposal announced this afternoon in Pittsburgh, private sellers could buy licences to sell alcohol products with the state using the proceeds to pay for school safety, early learning, individualized learning, and science and technology programs.

Grocery stores, convenience stores, pharmacies, large retailers and beer distributors would be able to file an application to sell beer and wine. Some beer distributors could become "one-stop shops" where customers can buy spirits along with beer and wine, as consumers do in other states.

The governor's office will introduce the package in the state House, where Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods, said there is "a lot of energy and a lot of enthusiasm" for the changes. Senate leaders have been skeptical of full-scale changes.

Pennsylvania's alcohol laws are among the strictest in the nation, with only state-owned stores allowed to sell wine and spirits, taverns and restaurants selling six-packs of beer, and distributors selling beer by the case. Only Utah is stricter, and the governor said the laws stamp Pennsylvania as being old-fashioned and out of step with most other states in the nation.

"You people in Pennsylvania do not deserve to be treated like that in the 21st century," Mr. Corbett said.

The school funding would be distributed for four years under the governor's "Passport For Learning" block grants.

Mr. Corbett said the $1 billion would be generated by $575 million from wholesale licenses, $224 million wine and spirits retail auctions, $107 million from the wine and beer license applications and $112.5 million in enhanced beer-distributor applications that include sales of spirits.

Supporters of the state store system -- including their unionized employees -- are saying privatization would result in to cuts in jobs statewide, lead to alcohol abuse, hurt the restaurant trade and cut alcohol tax revenues from the state budget.

"We do not need to tear down a system that works, provides good paying, middle class jobs, and generates essential revenue for the state as the governor is proposing. We need to improve that system to the benefits of consumers while continuing to benefit from the important resources and public health protections the system provides today," said state Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Highland Park.

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Timothy McNulty: or 412-263-1581 First Published January 30, 2013 7:45 PM


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