HOW WOULD YOU like to pay top dollar for bottom-shelf wine and drive twice as far to get it as you might do now?

That's what former state Sen. Joe Conti says could happen if Gov. Corbett and Republican lawmakers privatize the sale of wine and liquor when the General Assembly reconvenes next month.

"Virtually all price sectors will see a significant increase," Conti said of House Majority Leader Mike Turzai's plan to dismantle the Liquor Control Board.

The agency runs about 600 state stores under a government monopoly dating back to the end of Prohibition.

Conti has an interest in maintaining the status quo:

He's the LCB's chief executive officer and could be out of a job if Turzai has his way.

Testifying yesterday before the House Liquor Control Committee, Conti predicted that switching to a free-market system with a new tax structure would lead to higher prices and limited availability in some parts of the state.

"Can a deregulation proposal that raises a box of wine from $12.49 to $25.38 really be taken seriously?" Conti asked, referring to an LCB study showing that a 5-liter box of Franzia Blush wine would increase by that amount.

Turzai spokesman Steve Miskin said that busting the government's booze monopoly would force the new license-holders - including supermarkets, large retailers and wine boutiques - to keep their prices competitive with each other and outlets over the state border.

"It's ludicrous to say prices are going to go through the roof," Miskin said.

"They're going to want people to come to their shop."

Turzai's bill would double the number of locations where wine and liquor could be bought.

But Conti said that's not necessarily a good thing.

"To us, convenience does not equal a store on every corner, since, as I believe we can all agree, too many outlets selling alcohol can lead to problems within the community," he said.