Pennsylvania Governor Wants State to Exit Liquor Business, Use Proceeds for Schools
By Jim Malewitz, Staff Writer
Governor Tom Corbett wants to send Pennsylvania schools some booze money.
Corbett Wednesday (January 30) unveiled a plan, backed by several fellow Republicans, that would remove Pennsylvania from the liquor business and funnel to schools proceeds from the sale of alcohol licenses to private vendors.
It’s just the latest of several attempts over the past 35 years to privatize alcohol in Pennsylvania, which joins only Utah in having a fully state-controlled system, though 16 other states control some aspects of alcohol sales. Pennsylvania is one of several states grappling with whether to modernize or completely privatize its liquor business, as Stateline has reported. Under the governor’s plan, the state would follow Washington, which finished auctioning its state-run stores last June.
Corbett says his plan would give consumers "what they want by increasing choice and convenience,” while raising some $1 billion over the next three to four years. That money would fund block grants focused on school safety, early education programs, science, technology and math programs and one-on-one learning.
“The state will no longer be a marketer of alcohol; instead, it will now focus on its role as a regulator,” Corbett said in a statement. "It also creates an unprecedented opportunity for economic expansion for private sector employers while remaining revenue neutral for the state.”
Pennsylvania currently has the fewest alcohol stores per capita, the governor said, and expenses at the stores are eclipsing revenues.
But like his predecessors, Corbett will face resistance from several groups, including labor unions who say the closure of about 600 state stores and shift of sales to grocery and convenience stores would jeopardize some 5,000 jobs.
Some Pennsylvania teachers aren’t happy either. The Pennsylvania State Education Association says the plan holds students “hostage to the governor's political agenda.”
“It’s nice that the governor has acknowledged that he created a school funding crisis, but our students shouldn’t have to count on liquor being available on every corner in order to have properly funded schools, said Mike Crossey, the group’s president. “We need to restore the nearly $1 billion in education cuts made by Governor Corbett with an adequate and sustainable funding plan, not with money that doesn’t exist.”
Critics are also concerned about potential increases in underage drinking and drunk driving.
In 2011, an independent task force assembled by the director of the Centers for Disease Control found “strong evidence that privatization results in increased per capita alcohol consumption, a well-established proxy for excessive consumption and related harms.” The group, which studied the results of privatization in other states and in Canada, noted risks linked to increases in hours and days of sale, advertising, increased alcohol outlet density and lax enforcement of rules such as the minimum drinking age — factors associated with privatization.
Corbett says he would combat those risks by adding new enforcement measures, including increasing penalties to vendors who sell to underage or visibly drunk people, and using fines to boost inspection efforts. The governor also proposes to increase funding for alcohol treatment and prevention efforts by 75 percent.