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Corbett proposes privatization of Pa. liquor stores

By John Craven, Reporter, JCraven@wfmz.com
Published On: Jan 29 2013 06:00:00 PM CST
Updated On: Jan 31 2013 05:36:31 AM CST

Tired of buying beer in one place and liquor in another?

Tired of buying beer in one place and liquor in another? Pennsylvania's infamous "state stores" may soon be a thing of the past if Gov. Tom Corbett has his way.

Wednesday, he proposed selling-off all state-owned liquor stores, and also allowing gas stations and grocery stores to sell beer and wine.

"I believe it's time to give the people of Pennsylvania exactly what they want: choice and convenience," he said.

Pennsylvania's confusing maze of liquor laws has driven booze buyers to the border for years.

"We share some customers [with Pennsylvania]," said Tricia Kobble, owner of Free Bridge Wine and Spirits in Phillipsburg, N.J.

All alcohol sales in the Garden State are private.

"I feel it works well," said Phillipsburg's acting town clerk, Victoria Kleiner.

In New Jersey, liquor store licenses are limited by a town's population. They are also tightly regulated by both state and local authorities.

"They monitor, they go out and check their licenses, they have to follow all the guidelines or they will shut them down," said Kleiner.

At a Wednesday afternoon news conference in Pittsburgh, Corbett proposed selling all 623 state-owned liquor stores in Pennsylvania. He would replace them with 1,200 private store licenses. Corbett said the plan would be phased in over four years.

"My plan sells both the wholesale and retail sides of the state-run liquor business," he said.

Corbett believes selling the stores and liquor licenses will raise $1 billion for education, although some worry about the loss of store revenue.

Grocery stores and gas stations would also be allowed to sell beer and wine, something generally banned in New Jersey.

Polls consistently show Pennsylvanians support liquor privatization, but some concerns remain.

"I worry about the people that work there," said Aurelia Cruz of Allentown. "What's going to happen to them?"

The governor's chief ally in the General Assembly believes private sellers will generate far more jobs than the so-called "state stores" do.

"This governor and his administration -- more than any other administration that I've had the opportunity to be around -- has focused on private sector job creation," said state Rep. Mike Turzai, R - Alleghany Co., the House majority leader.

Opinions are mixed about how privatization will affect prices.

"If they privatize, the price and tax on a bottle of anything is going to go up," said Dick Treese of Allentown.

"Sometimes [alcohol is] more expensive [in New Jersey], sometimes it's cheaper," said Joshua Perez of Allentown. "Depends on what you're getting."

Either way, Free Bridge's owner is not concerned about losing business -- yet.

"There are five other liquor stores within two miles from my store," said Kobble. "I don't really think one more across the bridge would really impact my business too much."

The state employees' union has defeated this measure before, but this time, Gov. Corbett said he will put his full weight behind privatization.