SCRANTON – The banner hanging behind him told the story, but it didn't stop Gov. Tom Corbett from reiterating the message over and over during a press conference Friday about his plan to overhaul the liquor, wine and beer industry in Pennsylvania. Why don't our taxpayers and citizens have more choice and convenience? asked Corbett, appearing in a small conference room in his Northeast Regional office.
A white banner used as a backdrop repeated these two phrases: Consumer Choice, Consumer Convenience.
And that's exactly what he believes his plan will provide, if it gains legislative approval.
While Democrats and even some rural Republicans have voiced skepticism or opposition, lawmakers at the press conference said they believe the Legislature has the will to move Corbett's plan forward.
Two previous governors have tried – and failed – to get Pennsylvania out of the liquor business. And last year House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods, also led an effort to privatize the liquor monopoly that the state runs; his proposal never made it out of committee.
This time, the plan apparently has legs because it ties the anticipated $1 billion in revenue it will generate to funding education and other items, including increased enforcement. Corbett hopes it will attract lawmakers who weren't previously on board.
I think we have momentum, said state Rep. Sandra Major, R-Bridgewater Township, whose rural northern tier district often sees some residents crossing into New York to purchase alcohol.
Corbett said all too often residents in border counties travel into Delaware, Ohio, Maryland, New York, New Jersey and West Virginia to buy alcohol because of convenience, cost and selection. Only Pennsylvania and Utah have state-run liquor operations, and Corbett said the time has come for Pennsylvania's liquor sales laws to enter the 21st century.
It's time for Pennsylvania to join the 48 other states and get out of the monopoly, he said.
The state's system of selling beer in one type of store, cases of beer in another and wine and spirits in another establishment is convoluted, antiquated and confusing to people visiting the state, Corbett said.
He then showed a photograph, taken by a staffer on her cellphone Thursday, of a sign hanging on a liquor store door near the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia informing customers that you can't purchase beer there but you can go four lights up to buy some.
Corbett pinned the lack of liquor store modernization on fear of change. I know change is not easy. We always seem to resist it … it's the only thing that's ever brought progress, Corbett said. I believe it's a time that has come. We know people want this … Why are we retaining the status quo?
Corbett's plan involves shutting about 620 state-owned wine and liquor stores and auctioning off 1,200 wine and liquor store licenses.
According to information the governor's office issued, the plan would generate $1 billion in revenue that would be funneled to public schools over four years to create a proposed block grant program. The money would help finance programs involving school safety; learning in reading and math through third grade; individualized learning programs; and science, technology, engineering and mathematics instruction in the sixth to 12th grades.
Corbett made it clear Friday that it is not a recurring source of income and is a one-time enhancement, not something school districts should come to count on for years to come.
Most of the revenue, a projected $575 million, would come from the sale of wholesale liquor licenses.
An additional $224 million is anticipated from the money raised by auctioning off 1,200 wine and liquor licenses. Of those, 800 would be reserved for large retail stores and 400 for smaller ones.