PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The stars could be aligning in Harrisburg next year for a massive overhaul of the way alcohol is sold in Pennsylvania. At the top of the list: privatizing Pennsylvania’s 625 state liquor stores.
Incoming Republican governor Tom Corbett has said selling the state stores is a top priority of his administration, something he reiterated at a press conference Wednesday.
That goal will be much easier to achieve with Republicans in decisive charge of both houses of the General Assembly.
“I believe this is one of the first things we look at coming out of the gate,” said Rep. Tom Killion (R-Delaware County). “That’s a basic question: should we be in the alcohol business? I don’t think so.”
Rep. Killion co-sponsored a bill this year with Rep. Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny County) to privatize the state stores. Turzai is now in line to become the House Majority Leader.
Selling the state’s liquor system has been tried time and again in Harrisburg, but Killion says next year will be different.
“I think the big difference is the budget dilemma we’re in. We’re facing between a $3 billion and a $5 billion deficit,” he said. “We need revenue.”
Killion estimates selling 750 retail and 100 wholesale liquor store licenses could net the state at least $2 billion dollars. That’s a potential nest egg that could be invested for transportation or other budget needs. He says the state would then still be able to tax the sale of alcohol to make up the roughly $200 million it earns from liquor sales each year.
But not everyone agrees.
“It would be hard to make up the revenue for the state. In fact, it wouldn’t happen,” said Wendell Young, president of Local 1776 of the United Food and Commercial Workers. Young’s union represents many of the 3,800 state store employees.
“The idea that Pennsylvania is not competitive is ridiculous,” Young said.
He points out lower alcohol prices at state stores in recent years and several steps the Liquor Control Board has taken to modernize the system: opening larger stores, starting Sunday hours and installing self-service wine kiosks in grocery stores.
“This is not an example of where we hear government can’t do things well,” he said. “This is something government has done very well.”
If the state stores are sold off, it’s likely that most Liquor Control Board employees would lose their jobs. The LCB would still oversee enforcement of the state’s liquor laws.
Rep. Killion says there is still a lot of work to do on the proposal, and lawmakers will need to thoroughly crunch all the numbers to make sure it won’t end up costing the state revenue over the long-term.
Reported By: Ben Simmoneau, CBS3