Liquor Privatization on Tap in Pennsylvania, Too?

Republican governors and candidates for governor around the country are sounding a familiar theme. They are refusing to raise taxes, but increasingly are looking toward privatization as a way to raise money.

Tom Corbett, the Republican nominee for governor in Pennsylvania, became the latest to do so on Tuesday (Oct. 19), when he formally backed privatization of the state's liquor stores. "We need to move our state out of the 19th century and refocus state government on its core functions and services for our residents," Corbett said, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette . Pennsylvania is one of 19 states that run their own liquor stores.

Corbett previously had been lukewarm to the idea of liquor privatization, the paper reported, but could be facing heightened pressure to find ways to raise revenue after pledging in a debate earlier this week not only to avoid tax increases, but to reject fee hikes as well. Corbett has consistently led in the polls over Democratic nominee Dan Onorato and has been running against what he sees as runaway spending under term-limited Governor Ed Rendell, a Democrat.

Two of Pennsylvania's surrounding states — both with new Republican governors — are already taking a hard look at privatization, potentially offering a model for Corbett.

In Virginia, Governor Bob McDonnell is in the middle of his own effort to get the state out of the liquor business, though the process is a complicated one and has drawn criticism from members of his own party as well as many business owners. In New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie's administration is looking at a large-scale privatization of state services. McDonnell and Christie both vowed not to raise taxes during their campaigns for governor.

While the GOP tends to be leading the charge on privatization — with Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels frequently held up as a model after his privatization of the Indiana Toll Road — some Democrats are open to the idea, too. Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer, for example, recently proposed privatizing the state's Medicaid services , though lawmakers appear skeptical.

Privatization is frequently floated as a way to raise money, and many states indeed have privatized services, including correctional facilities. Liquor privatization, as Stateline has reported , is also not a new idea, though getting there can be extremely difficult politically. That is why there is unusual attention on McDonnell in Virginia as his plan moves forward. 

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