State store sell-off
In our view
Will 2013 be the year that Pennsylvania's antiquated liquor sales system finally is put out to pasture? Or will Gov. Tom Corbett's privatization proposal be deep-sixed like all previous attempts?
With Republicans in control of the governor's mansion and both chambers in the General Assembly, it would seem that the time to privatize liquor in the commonwealth has arrived.
Corbett has long supported privatization. His argument largely centers on the belief that the organization policing liquor sales in the state -- the Liquor Control Board -- should not be in the business of selling the stuff. It is a conflict of interest.
The governor also believes it is time to bring Pennsylvania out of the Prohibition era and into the modern era wherein consumers can one-stop shop for wine, spirits and beer, including six-packs.
Again, we agree.
So, too, do most Pennsylvanians. Polls have shown that as many as two-thirds of Pennsylvanians support privatizing liquor sales.
That does not mean that this will be an easy sell. As Republican Govs. Dick Thornburgh and Tom Ridge discovered, the roots of this archaic system extend well below the surface.
So the governor has decided to play hardball. He plans to sell the state liquor stores and use the estimated $1 billion from the sale of licenses (earlier estimates projected to bring in $2 billion have been realistically downsized) for public education, which he cut by nearly that amount in the past two budgets. That's a nifty way to restore the very funds he cut without breaking his no-tax-hike pledge.
It also is a politically shrewd deal, pitting unionized state store employees against education funding.
Not everyone sees this as a take-it or leave-it deal, however. Senate President Pro Tempore Joseph Scarnati, a Jefferson County Republican, was clearly disturbed by the plan.
Calling the governor's tactics "Washington-style politics," Scarnati said the state would do better to modernize the current state-store system. State House Speaker Sam Smith, also from Jefferson County, prefers a hybrid system that would allow some private sales, such as beer in grocery stores or allowing beer distributors to buy licenses to sell wine while keeping spirits under state control.
In essence, while Corbett wants to use a wrecking ball, they prefer to change the existing system one brick at a time.
We're not keen on using liquor license sales to create a one-time stimulus to fund education. But the state already relies on gambling to reduce school property taxes and lottery sales to pay for senior citizen services.
Pennsylvania and Utah are the only two states in which the government has control of wholesale and retail sales of wine and spirits.
It's time to let Utah have the sole distinction.
Bring on the wrecking ball, governor.