Top Republican won't rush on liquor privatization

Posted: May 01, 2013

HARRISBURG - On the eve of key hearings on Gov. Corbett's liquor privatization push, the top Republican in the state Senate is making no promises that his chamber will kick out a privatization bill any time soon.

President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R., Jefferson) said Monday that everyone in the Capitol had become fixated on getting such a bill passed before the legislature's summer break even though little work had been done on other major, time-sensitive initiatives, such as the budget.

Speaking at the monthly press club luncheon, Scarnati said legislative leaders have yet to meet with Corbett about his proposed $28.4 billion spending proposal for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Complicating matters, he said, is the state's financial situation, with revenue falling short of spending.

"So we are going to fixate ourselves on liquor and not have a budget meeting?" Scarnati said. "We have not had a substantive meeting on the budget yet, and it's almost May.

"Hopefully we can move something forward within the time frame that the governor would like to see," the senator said, but he added that only nine weeks remain until June 30 - little time to reach agreement on what a privatized liquor system should look like.

"The last thing I want," Scarnati said, "is to be part of creating another system that doesn't work. Let's get it right."

His words were a reminder that the Republicans who control the Senate are far from sold on something Corbett wants badly: a quick victory in the battle over how alcohol is sold.

The administration has been pushing for the Senate to swiftly take up the liquor privatization bill that passed the House last month. That measure would phase out the State Stores while allowing entrepreneurs - beer distributors first among them - to begin selling wine and liquor.

Getting a privatization bill passed and signed is considered important to Corbett's 2014 reelection chances, and the governor and his staff have made it known to fellow Republicans in the legislature that it is a top priority.

But Scarnati reinforced Monday the feeling that there is at best little support in the Senate for the House version. So the Senate will hold three hearings - the first scheduled for Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. before the Law and Justice Committee - with the intent of revising the House bill.

The witness lineup for the first hearing is telling: law enforcement agencies and drug and alcohol services providers.


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

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