HARRISBURG -- The issue of whether to privatize the state liquor system is still being debated in Harrisburg, but legislators already are fighting over where the proceeds of a sale of state stores should go.
Several Republican House members Tuesday announced their support for putting the funds toward repairing roads and bridges -- contrary to Gov. Tom Corbett's plan to use the money for education programs such as school safety and science, technology, engineering and math initiatives.
"When you give the money to the education establishment like this, it's like throwing it into a black hole. All it will be used for is to drive those salaries up that are continuing to be one of the main drivers for our pension problem," said state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Cranberry, a co-sponsor of House Bill 220, which earmarks liquor proceeds for infrastructure improvements.
Mr. Metcalfe's comments were echoed by several other Republican House members speaking at a news conference Monday.
House Majority Whip Stan Saylor said giving one-time liquor money to school districts would result in the districts counting it as part of their regular subsidy and they would not want to see those funds go away when sales are completed.
Rep. Jerry Knowles, R-Schuylkill, the main sponsor of the legislation, said while putting up to $1 billion in possible liquor proceeds toward education or pension costs are worthy causes, transportation is a more pressing need.
"Transportation is an issue that affects all Pennsylvanians," Mr. Knowles said. "If you drive a car, if you ride a bus, if you walk over a bridge, if you ride a bike, you are affected by roads and bridges."
Senate Transportation Committee Chairman John Rafferty, R-Montgomery, will hold a news conference today to unveil his transportation legislation.
In March, the House passed legislation that would allow private sales of wine and liquor while phasing out state-run stores. The issue is expected to be discussed in the Senate later this month, where its passage is far from guaranteed, as prominent members have said they support more gradual change to the system.
Pollster G. Terry Madonna said Mr. Knowles' plan speaks to a growing view that transportation is a top priority with billions in funding needs, as well as Republican reluctance to increase taxes.
At least for now, he added, using money from liquor store sales is a moot issue "until the Senate decides what it wants to do," he said.
A spokesman for Mr. Corbett said using the potential funds toward education is still the governor's priority, but the fact that there is even a discussion about what to do with the proceeds is encouraging.
"That shows that there's optimism that we're going to get this done," Eric Shirk said. "There's a lot of discussions that will be had in the Legislature as this moves forward."
"The governor has a good idea," Mr. Knowles said. "It's just that I have a better idea."
Kate Giammarise: email@example.com, 1-717-787-4254 and on Twitter: @KateGiammarise.