State Stores' Privatization Faces Old Foe

By Bumsted, Brad | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, February 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

State Stores' Privatization Faces Old Foe


Bumsted, Brad, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


HARRISBURG -- The political landscape is far different for Gov. Tom Corbett's proposed liquor privatization plan from what it was when then-Gov. Dick Thornburgh started an effort in 1983.

In some ways, the outlook improved for privatization: Social conservatives, who formed part of an unofficial coalition with unions to block Thornburgh's effort, have been quiet. Another key opponent, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, is no longer fighting state battles such as this, national spokesman J.T. Griffin said.

Although some pillars of opposition might be missing, Thornburgh said in looking back, "By and large, the most powerful group is the union."

The union leader who worked against Thornburgh's plan was the late Wendell W. Young III. His son, Wendell W. Young IV, eventually led the charge against then-Republican Gov. Tom Ridge's effort in the 1990s and now is the fiery leader of the same union, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1776, opposing Corbett.

Jerry Shuster, a professor of political rhetoric at the University of Pittsburgh, said it's still probably 60-40 against privatization's passing.

"I think (the climate) may be better," Shuster said. "I don't know that that translates into success for the Corbett administration. It's a hard sell from a very unpopular governor."

Corbett mustered a 36 percent approval rating in a Quinnipiac University poll this week. That's the lowest for any governor at midterm in modern history, analyst G. Terry Madonna said.

"If it were easy, it would have been done a long time ago," said Corbett spokesman Kevin Harley. "He believes Pennsylvanians should have choice and convenience."

The governor does not govern by polls, Harley said.

Corbett, like Thornburgh a Republican, on Wednesday presented a plan to break up the state's wholesale and retail monopoly by selling 619 state-owned stores. Instead, 1,200 wine and liquor licenses would be available to private businesses. Big-box stores, pharmacies and groceries could sell beer and wine.

Beer distributors, now limited to selling cases, also could sell wine and six-packs. Wine and spirits stores would handle liquor. In all, the plan could raise $1 billion, which Corbett would use for block grants to school districts over four years.

"The more traditional role that morals play in liquor-related decisions aren't nearly as common as they once were," said Christopher Borick, a political science professor at Muhlenberg College in Allentown. "I really don't think there is a strong push from the groups concerned with issues like drunk driving (and) underage drinking to play a pivotal role in this decision. …

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