By Tony Romeo
HARRISBURG, Pa. (CBS) – The state House majority leader is promising a historic vote this week on one of the most controversial issues of the past several decades: a proposal to have private business sell liquor in Pennsylvania.
House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, an Allegheny County Republican, has tweaked his proposal to end the state store system since he first rolled it out a year ago. He has increased the number of licenses that would be available to 1,600. That’s in keeping with an outside consultant’s analysis of the issue commissioned by Governor Corbett.
“The report that the governor had prepared for last October had said that the optimum number that they were looking at was 1,500 or 1,600, because they felt that it increased service, even though it’s still low per capita, by comparison, in the country.”
And his newest proposal would give the state’s more than 1,000 beer distributors first crack at selling wine and spirits. Turzai says that provision was contributed by the House’s Liquor Control Committee.
“They felt that it was important to offer to the beer distributors the right of first refusal, because they’re already in the private sector. And then if those businesses wanted to take it they could. If they didn’t want to, they didn’t have to.”
The licenses that are not purchased by beer distributors would be sold at auction.
Turzai is moving ahead even though it appears unlikely the Senate would consider the bill before summer recess if it does pass the House.
“The goal here is not to have this as, you know, something that has to be done by the Senate at this stage, no. We’re just at a point where we have to put the issue up and let it get a complete airing.”
The vote planned this week in the House comes days after a new wrinkle emerged. The head of a union local representing state store workers says a new contract that runs into 2015 would require any private liquor retailers to hire former state store workers and honor the contract.
Appearing last week with WPHT’s Dom Giordano, Governor Corbett dismissed the union leader’s claim that the contract provision will trip up any privatization efforts.
Corbett: “Well, let’s keep it simple: he’s wrong.”
Corbett: “Our lawyers have taken a look at it. They’ve looked at the contract and everything and we believe he’s wrong.”
A Corbett spokesman has said no private employer could be forced to abide by the contract.