Inquirer Poll finds wide backing for privatizing liquor sales

Posted: November 01, 2012

HARRISBURG - When it comes to alcohol, a majority of Pennsylvanians agree on one thing: They want it firmly in the hands of the private sector.

So found the latest Inquirer Pennsylvania Poll, in which likely voters, by a ratio of nearly 2-1, said they favored doing away with state control over the sale of wine and liquor.

And 61 percent of respondents in the bipartisan survey said they supported allowing grocery stores to sell beer and wine.

Even so, privatizing the Liquor Control Board remains an elusive goal in Harrisburg despite some big names behind the effort, including Gov. Corbett, who campaigned on the issue and often cites privatization's popularity with the public.

Legislation calling for selling off the system has flatlined since Corbett took office, felled by Democratic foes, along with a few Republicans, who believe the state system is more responsible and reliable as well as financially beneficial, sending millions of dollars of revenue into state coffers.

Whether any privatization bill can pass muster in the 253-member General Assembly remains a question.

Yet outside the Capitol, opinions are strong. "It's kind of goofy, don't you think?" Claudia Utti, 65, of King of Prussia, said of the state-controlled liquor system.

Utti, a respondent in the Inquirer Poll, summed up shopping at her neighborhood Wine & Spirits Shoppe this way: In and out.

She called store employees "grouchy" and said she mostly tried to keep communication with them to a minimum. "When I am looking for something," she said, "I just try my best to find it by myself."

The Oct. 23 to 25 telephone survey of 600 likely voters was conducted by a Democratic firm, Global Strategy Group, and by National Research Inc., which is Republican. The margin of error was plus or minus 4 percent.

The poll found that 55 percent of respondents supported privatization, 28 percent opposed it, and 17 percent either did not know or did not answer.

The survey found that men, as well as those 18 to 44, were the most likely to support privatization, with 62 percent of men and 61 percent of respondents in that age range supporting it.

Seniors were more opposed - 31 percent favored privatization and 38 percent did not.

There was wide support for allowing grocery stores to sell beer and wine.

Several supermarkets have licenses to sell beer. (They have to meet very specific requirements for such a license.) And the LCB does run smaller-scale wine stores within grocery stores - there are 20 around the state, LCB spokeswoman Stacy Kriedeman said.

On the legislative front, House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R., Allegheny) has led the charge for privatization, floating two plans over the last two years. Neither made it to a full floor vote.

Turzai's more recent measure would have sold off 1,600 licenses - the first 1,050 of which would have been offered to beer distributors, who under current law can sell only beer and only by the case or keg.

With the two-year legislative session about to end, any privatization bill must start from scratch next year.

Before legislators left the Capitol in October - they will be returning, but not to vote on legislation - Turzai said he remained optimistic about the future of privatization, but stressed that any new proposal should emanate from Corbett's office.

"Many people, all across the state, in significant numbers, ask, 'Why can't you guys get this privatized like every other state around Pennsylvania?' " Turzai said. "And I think that the momentum will build."

Kevin Harley, Corbett's spokesman, said the administration had been working hard to come up with a proposal that he expected would be presented early next year. Privatization, he said, will be "among the top legislative priorities in the next session."


Contact Angela Couloumbis at 717-787-5934, acouloumbis@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @AngelasInk.

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