HARRISBURG - The Republican-controlled legislature on Sunday began fast-tracking yet another budget proposal that Gov. Wolf has said he will not support: privatizing the state-run liquor stores.
The measure, introduced Sunday evening by GOP senators, would allow beer distributors, bars, restaurants, grocery stores, and others to sell for takeout wine and hard liquor, which now can be purchased only at one of the state's wine and spirits stores. The proposal, which passed a key Senate committee, also calls for leasing the wholesale operations of the state Liquor Control Board.
Under any other circumstances, a consensus by the majority party on a sweeping privatization bill would be notable - even historic. But the measure is destined for a swift demise under Wolf, who has said repeatedly that he opposes privatization and instead wants to "modernize" the current system.
Still, Republicans tried to put a good face on the effort as they positioned their proposal for a vote in the Senate early this week.
"It does make money for the commonwealth," said Sen. Chuck McIlhinney Jr. (R., Bucks). "If you want privatization, it's a good bill."
Wolf spokesman Jeff Sheridan said that the governor would review the Republican-backed liquor plan, but that he is focused on negotiating a budget that includes more money for public schools and property-tax relief for homeowners.
With a Wednesday budget deadline looming, the governor and the legislature are at a stalemate on a spending plan for the next fiscal year. There have been no face-to-face talks between Wolf and Republican leaders since the middle of last week.
Instead, GOP legislators have spent the last few days pushing through a $30.1 billion budget that Wolf has vowed to veto, setting the stage for a partial government shutdown. The House passed that spending plan on Saturday along partisan lines, and the Senate could do so as early as Monday.
The Republican budget relies in part on money from liquor privatization.
The plan unveiled Sunday would not increase the number of retail outlets selling alcohol. Instead, it would allow outlets that currently have licenses - such as beer distributors, restaurants, hotels, bars, and taverns - to obtain permits to sell wine and hard liquor.
The state-run stores could be shuttered if they are no longer profitable, and if a nearby retail outlet offers a "comparable" selection of wine and liquor, McIlhinney said.
Democrats have argued that privatization will lead to higher prices and poor selection, and leave 4,700 state-store employees out of a job.