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Time to get PA out of alcohol business? Governor Corbett unveils a plan

If Governor Tom Corbett has his way, state liquor stores like this one outside of Honesdale, PA will be privatized.
TRR photo by Fritz Mayer

By Fritz Mayer
February 6, 2013

HARRISBURG, PA — For decades governors of the Keystone State have dreamed of selling off the state liquor store system to the private sector, and now Governor Tom Corbett has presented a detailed plan about how to move forward with it.

At a press conference in Pittsburgh on January 30, Corbett said the main thrust of the change is to offer consumers more choice and convenience.

Perhaps the biggest critic of the plan is the union leader of the state stores clerks, Wendell Young IV. Young, president of the United Food and Commercial Union, which represent more than 3,000 employees in the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) system, told reporters that Corbett’s plan would cause the loss of 5,000 jobs, and he will fight to make sure that the plan does not come to fruition. He has reportedly challenged the governor to a series of town hall meetings to debate the issue.

Corbett maintains that the wrong question is being asked. “Why do we continue to deal with an antiquated liquor system that is 75 years old? The question should be why don’t we have choice and convenience like 48 other states in the union.”

Representative Seth Grove said the state is losing significant revenue through the current system because many Pennsylvania residents who live near states with more liberal distribution systems, such as New York, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland, cross state lines to purchase alcohol.

Corbett said his plan to auction licenses to private businesses would lead to increased sales of alcoholic beverages; and the auction and increased sales together would raise about $1 billion, which Corbett said would be used to help fund education programs in the state’s schools.

A press release about the plan said, “The $1 billion in revenue will come from the three- to four-year process of selling the PLCB” and its various assets. There are about 600 wine and liquor stores currently in the state. Corbett foresees that number growing to about 1,200, with every county having as many liquor stores as they now have, and most counties getting more.

Additionally, under the plan, consumers would be able to buy beer and wine where they shop for groceries, buy six-packs of beer at a distributor instead of being forced to buy an entire case, and buy a six-pack of beer at a convenience store.

The plan has been criticized by some Democrats for the large increase in stores where the public and perhaps minors will be able to access alcohol, though Corebtt’s plan calls for increasing the penalties for people who sell alcohol to minors.