New Castle News

February 6, 2013

Our Opinion: Governor faces difficult road on path to privatization

By Staff
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — We look forward to Harrisburg’s debate over liquor privatization with a combination of anticipation and dread.

The anticipation stems from our general support for Gov. Tom Corbett’s proposal to privatize Pennsylvania’s state store system. We long have believed the government’s role in alcohol is law enforcement, not marketing.

But we also know this is not the first time a governor has pushed for liquor privatization in the commonwealth. Past efforts have gone nowhere — for a variety of reasons. Not the least of these is that alcohol in Pennsylvania is a much more complicated subject than it first appears.

And Corbett is pushing a broad revamping of alcohol rules. That includes beer sales, where the governor is pushing for liberalization of antiquated rules.

You can be sure of opposition from liquor store employees to the governor’s plan to shut down state stores. But an article last week in the New Castle News highlighted the fact local business owners and operators who sell beer aren’t particularly enthused by the idea of reform.

Their concern is that a relaxation of licensing rules and privatization will entice larger corporate interests into Pennsylvania’s liquor trade. This may squeeze out mom-and-pop distributors, bottle shops and even some taverns.

All of this means there will be stiff resistance in the Legislature to liquor privatization. It will come from lawmakers who are interested in protecting the economics of the status quo, as well as those who worry about expanded liquor consumption with privatization — particularly among juveniles.

And any attempt to alter liquor laws will compete with a host of other front-burner issues facing Pennsylvania. In short, It’s quite possible liquor privatization again will go nowhere.

But if the issue does gain traction in Harrisburg, we have one suggestion that might minimize some opposition.

Rather than sell licenses outright, the state should look at limited licensing, say for four years with renewal possible if the holders conduct themselves properly.

The state would charge less for such licenses, making them affordable for smaller businesses. This could promote more competition as well.

Corbett has said he wants the sale of licenses to fund a new block grant program for education. It’s always a concern when a big chunk of money for a specific purposes is pumped into government. Eventually, that money goes away, but the demand for it does not.

An ongoing liquor store licensing system, similar to what happens with driver’s licenses, would produce a constant source of revenue for the commonwealth. We see that as a benefit worth pursuing.