HARRISBURG - House Majority Leader Mike Turzai says he expects his chamber to vote this month on privatizing Pennsylvania's wine and spirits stores.
Turzai (R., Allegheny) promised reporters at a news conference Tuesday that he would formally introduce legislation for Gov. Corbett's liquor privatization plan by the end of the day - and that's what he did. He said he expected a floor vote by March 31.
"People recognize that it's time for change," said Turzai, the legislature's most vocal proponent of selling off Pennsylvania's 600-plus wine and spirits stores. "And there is significant support for moving Pennsylvania forward."
Corbett's plan would auction off the wholesale and retail operations of the Liquor Control Board (LCB) and use the estimated $1 billion in proceeds to help public schools. The way the Republican governor envisions it, beer and wine could be sold by taverns, restaurants, beer retailers, supermarkets, convenience stores, and even big-box stores.
The plan faces a tough fight in the legislature, which for years has been loath to make even minor changes to the state-run liquor model that has been in place since Prohibition ended.
This week, for instance, the chairman of the House Liquor Control Committee, State Rep. John Taylor (R., Phila.), circulated a proposed amendment to Corbett's plan that would let State Stores survive but compete with privately run stores.
Taylor could not be reached for comment Tuesday. But his proposed amendment would allow the LCB to decide which stores to close and when, depending on competition from private-sector beer distributors, grocery stores, and other entrepreneurs.
In all, Taylor's plan would allow for 1,200 private licenses, with beer distributors getting first crack. After that, others interested in selling wine and liquor could apply for licenses on a first-come, first-served basis. Groceries could sell carryout beer and wine - though critics have argued that the price for such licenses would run so high that it would edge out mom-and-pop entrepreneurs.
Asked about Taylor's proposed amendment, Turzai was circumspect. He would not say whether he would accept a privatization proposal that let State Stores continue to exist. He strongly suggested, however, that his stance on such a plan would depend on how quickly State Stores were phased out.
"Once the private sector gets the opportunity to sell wine and spirits, the State Stores over time will not be able to compete. They will be phased out by the market," Turzai said. "It's just a matter of time."
Beyond Taylor's proposed amendment, liquor privatization has historically been opposed by the union representing State Store clerks and its Democratic allies in the legislature, as well as some Republicans who advocate for strict state control over alcohol sales.
At the same time, as Corbett often notes, recent polls show most Pennsylvania residents favor privatizing.