Corbett Wants to Sell Off State Booze Monopoly For Convenience, Schools
On Wednesday afternoon, Gov. Tom Corbett and several Republican legislators held a press conference in Pittsburgh to announce a new plan to get the Pennsylvania government out of the liquor business—fully, and for good.
The conference began with Lt. Gov. Cowley, who noted Wednesday’s announcement amounted to an “important day in the history of our commonwealth,” before handing the mic to Gov. Corbett, who stood in front of a wall of Republican dudes who both laughed at his jokes and spoke when spoken to.
“During the course of the  campaign and two years I’ve asked myself, ‘why do we continue to deal with an antiquated liquor system that is 75 years old?’” the governor noted. “Why don’t we have choice convenience like 48 other states in the union? … I am proposing Pennsylvania join the ranks of 48 other states get out of the business of wine and spirits.”
Indeed, Pennsylvania is one of two states in the nation—the other being, well, motherfucking Utah—where the government has a monopoly over the liquor business. Here, that monopoly’s taken the form of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, the origins of which stems from a time when things were a bit simpler: The Prohibition era. Back in 1933, when Pennsylvania’s Quaker Gov. Gifford Pinchot accepted President Roosevelt’s plan to re-sell alcohol throughout the United States, but he wasn’t happy about it. So, he decided to make it as difficult as possible for Keystone residents to do get hammered, even though it was the thirties, and peeps were sad. Over the decades, the PLCB has continued to exist, has taken on additional responsibilities, and even attempted to make itself more business-like. Now you know. Too bad it may all be for naught.
Corbett unveiled his new plan during the press conference, which was similar to what has been rumored for the last few weeks: Beer and wine, according to his plan (which will become a piece of legislative writing next week) would be sold in grocery stores; bars could sell beer and wine to go; retail licenses would be auctioned off; and beer distributors would get a crack at selling wine and spirits, in addition to their bulk sales of beer.
The governor said he would keep all liquor taxes in place—including the Johnstown Flood Tax—and the transition would take place over the course of four years. Additionally, he said, new retail stores who hire current state liquor store employees (the employees who work at state stores currently and are members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1776) would be given tax credits, to supposedly ensure a smooth transition to private sales.
“[We] don’t want to reduce it or trim it here and there,” said Corbett. “If we are to gain the advantages of consumer choice and convenience, we should not do it halfway.”
In the past, attempts to privatize the control of liquor had been proposed as half-hearted measures that, until Rep. Mike Turzai’s (R-Allegheny) bill last year, went nowhere.
In addition, Corbett did something that’d make it seem stupid not to join in his drunk attempt to get you drunker: He’s making it all about the kids. In the schools.
“The selling of alcohol is not a core responsibility of government,” he said. “But education is.”
In the short-term, his plan would distribute $1 billion to schools throughout the state in block grants, which, he says, would give schools some flexibility in where to spend their chunk of change (This is not the first time he’s proposed block grants; see February 2012 budget cuts) though they’d have to be in either safety, science, engineering, math, technology or early learning. According to the Inquirer:
The governor’s office said of the $1 billion in revenue, $575 million would come from selling wholesale licenses; $224 million from auctioning off the state’s wine and spirits stores; $107 million from selling wine/beer licenses; and $112.5 million from selling the “enhanced” licenses to beer distributors.
And, as it happens, the usual suspects are coming down about where they’ve been coming on this issue. The right-wing Commonwealth Foundation put out a news release following the announcement titled “Liquor Proposal Delivers Convenience.”
…Gov. Corbett’s proposed overhaul of the outdated liquor laws will bring Pennsylvania into the 21st century.
“The governor is giving the people of Pennsylvania what they want—more choice and greater convenience,” said Matthew J. Brouillette, president and CEO for the free-market think tank. “Pennsylvanians would finally be able to buy bread, beer and Bordeaux all in one stop on privately-run shelves.”
Ending the state-run monopoly will unleash millions of dollars in new business investment, create thousands of new jobs across the state and allow more wine shops and liquor stores to open.
Meanwhile, UFCW Local 1776 told members and supporters on its Facebook page to “Call Gov. Corbett and your State Representatives today and tell them you do NOT support any legislation that eliminates 5,000 family sustaining jobs, $500 million in annual State revenue, and puts our communities at risk.”
When the writing on the wall became clear in the Pennsylvania’s 2012 gubernatorial election—and it read Tom Corbett by about five points—the Republican candidate decided to double-down on his promise to lessen the blow of big government on the Keystone State by promising to privatize the state monopoly on liquor wholesale and retail. Two years later, he, like his Republican predecessors, has not accomplished that—nor has he come anywhere near doing so! But if he can get this accomplished, there may be some life in the governor yet.