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Pa. GOP ponders latest twists on liquor bill

HARRISBURG - There is a new liquor privatization plan. But its shelf life may be only 24 hours. So went another day of hurry-up-and- wait in the Capitol.

HARRISBURG - There is a new liquor privatization plan. But its shelf life may be only 24 hours.

So went another day of hurry-up-and- wait in the Capitol.

With Sunday's deadline for a state budget fast approaching, Gov. Corbett and the GOP-controlled legislature continued to wrestle with efforts to reach a compromise on the three policy initiatives that have dominated the last few months: liquor privatization, pension reform, and transportation funding.

All are priorities for Corbett, who faces reelection next year and has urged the legislature to tackle the issues before it breaks for the summer.

Hanging in the balance: the state's roughly $28 billion budget, which must be approved and signed by Corbett by 12:01 a.m. Monday.

Thursday brought some progress on liquor privatization and transportation funding, but agreements remain elusive.

In the Senate, Republicans met behind closed doors on their revised plan to privatize sales of wine and liquor in Pennsylvania, although they did not necessarily have the votes yet.

"We are very close," Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi said, optimistic that an agreement could be reached.

The Senate had been scheduled in the afternoon to begin floor debate on the revised version, but debate was postponed for the second time in as many days. Several senators privately chalked up the delay to the GOP caucus' not having reached the 26-vote threshold needed. The 50-member chamber's 23 Democrats all oppose the plan, which means all but one of 27 Republican senators would need to vote for it.

Yet another theory arose late in the day: Senate Republicans have the votes, but will not advance the bill until they see how their GOP counterparts in the House handle an issue near and dear to many senators: transportation funding.

On Thursday, a bill addressing that long-standing issue passed the House Transportation Committee by 16-9. The $2.1 billion proposal would fund road and bridge improvements, as well as mass transit, by lifting the cap on the oil franchise tax. But the House version eliminated a Senate provision that would have generated more revenue by raising license and registration fees.

Several legislators said they expected the House bill to be changed yet again before a compromise could be reached.

The same goes for the Senate's latest version of liquor privatization. That, too, is expected to be tinkered with before it gets to a full vote - and possibly even changed again before it gains House approval.

The highlights of Thursday's proposed Senate GOP version:

State Stores would stay in business until they were outnumbered by 2-1 by private businesses selling wine and liquor.

Beer distributors could, for the first time, sell six-packs as well as cases and kegs. Businesses with restaurant licenses could sell up to three six-packs, or one 12-pack and a six-pack.

Businesses with a restaurant license would also be able to sell wine, but the sale of liquor would be limited to beer distributors and State Stores.

Obtaining a restaurant license would be easier, paving the way for more grocery stores and many supermarkets to sell beer.

The plan would allow convenience stores that are part of gasoline stations to sell beer.

The state would remain in the wholesale side of the liquor business for two years. After that, it could move to lease those operations to business if studies projected no negative fiscal impact for the state.