HARRISBURG — With the clock ticking down toward the legislature's budget deadline and summer break, the top House Republican behind the push to privatize Pennsylvania's liquor stores vowed that debate on the measure would resume next week.
Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R., Allegheny) said between negotiations on the budget that his revamped proposal to sell off the state's wine and liquor stores was far from dead, despite stalled discussions over the last few days.
"It's scheduled to run on Monday," Turzai said as he hurried to the House floor from budget negotiations with the Senate.
But he declined to say whether he believed he had enough votes to get his privatization plan through the House.
Earlier this week, the GOP-controlled House slammed the brakes on discussing the controversial measure after members spent three hours Monday night debating privatization. The expectation was that they would resume talks the next day and possibly even vote on Turzai's plan.
But Tuesday came and went with no further action, leaving many to question whether the measure was dead for lack of votes.
The budget deadline is June 30, and then comes legislators' summer break. A key Senate leader has said that chamber won't take up the liquor privatization proposal until fall.
Turzai's plan calls for issuing 1,600 licenses to sell wine and liquor, the first 1,050 of which would be offered to beer distributors, who under current law can sell only beer, and only by the case or keg. The remaining licenses would be auctioned off, on a county-by-county basis, to the highest bidders.
The plan also would, for the first time, let beer distributors sell six-packs, or any other configuration, such as an 18-pack, with no limit on the number of packages sold in a single transaction. As it stands now, consumers can buy six-packs only at bars, delis, or taverns (usually at a steep markup), and no more than two at a time.
Despite public support and Gov. Corbett's backing, the proposal has faced considerable resistance. Critics include those in the legislature who say alcohol should be tightly controlled and union supporters who worry that state liquor store employees will lose good-paying jobs.
There is also disagreement on whether it makes financial sense to scrap the current system, which provides reliable revenue for the state.