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Most Pa. Voters Want Government Out of Liquor Sales, Poll Says

Wine in grocery stores is one tenant of Gov. Tom Corbett’s privatization plan that could happen if Pennsylvania sells off its wine and liquor stores and expands licensing.

By Melissa Daniels | PA Independent

HARRISBURG — About two weeks after Gov. Tom Corbett announced plans to privatize the state wine and liquor stores, a new poll shows a majority of voters favor the idea.

Overall, 61 percent of voters favor closing state-run liquor stores, compared to 35 percent who oppose, according to the poll.

Harrisburg’s free-market think tank, the Commonwealth Foundation, commissioned Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz and Associates to conduct the poll.

Corbett’s plan would close state stores, add up to 600 more retail locations, and allow for wine and beer sales in supermarkets and other locations. It would also expand what beer distributors can sell.

Matt Brouillette, CEO of the Commonwealth Foundation, said the state system represents “a great loss of personal and economic freedom” for Pennsylvania consumers.

The poll surveyed 800 voters, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percent and a confidence level of 95 percent. Brouillette called it “the most comprehensive” poll ever on the topic of liquor privatization, as it detailed demographics, consumer specifics, and polled voters after telling them arguments for and against privatization.

The poll found Pennsylvanians who shop at state stores most frequently are those who want to get rid of them.

When broken down by “frequency of purchase,” 77 percent of those who purchase alcohol in state stores weekly support privatization, while 22 percent of those weekly shoppers oppose the idea. Among those who never buy alcohol at state stores, just 35 percent favor privatization, while 58 percent oppose it.

Paul Maslin, a partner with the polling firm, said this was a “significant finding” because it means those who support privatization are those who actually use the state system. And that support, he said, is probably strong, and based on first-hand experiences.

“They are not likely to be dissuaded from their point of view,” she said.

The poll also showed 52 percent of union members support privatizing, and 43 percent do not. One of the most vocal opponents of attempts to privatize the state system is United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1776. The union represents the thousands of state store workers.

Opponents of privatization look at a different set of poll numbers – Corbett’s low approval ratings, which hover in the mid-30s. Wendell Young, president of UFCW Local 1776, said the day of Corbett’s budget address that selling off the state stores won’t do much to help consumers.

“This governor has couched it, at a time when his poll numbers are very low, in terms about convenience,” Young said. “It’s all about convenience. But he’s not talking about the fiscal consequences of doing this to the people who work in the system and the taxpayers who have to make up the shortfall in funding.”

The state won’t be able to make the same amount of money if it sells off the system without raising taxes, Young said, as Corbett’s plan proposes.

Bill Patton, spokesman for House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody, D-Allegheny, said the issue of privatization is rarely on an average Pennsylvanian’s radar — except when a pollster asks them, he said. And, Patton pointed out, support drops if people consider job losses, more sales to underage drinkers, and potentially higher prices.

“The governor claims a public outcry that doesn’t exist,” he told PA Independent. “Most Pennsylvanians would rather he put aside his privatization playbook and gave more time and effort to issues that matter more to the state, starting with jobs.”

But Corbett has been visible and vocal on his privatization plan, pushing for the proposal across the state in attempts to get lawmakers and voters on board.

Most recently, Corbett spoke again about the plan at a Tuesday afternoon press conference in Harrisburg, standing alongside three dozen lawmakers, education officials and business advocates.

His proposal would use the profits from the state system for public education grants used over the next four years.

Corbett said voters often ask him, “Do you really think you can get this done?” He said he tells them yes, then to call their lawmakers.

“Call the district office. Call the office here. Let them know,” Corbett said.

Corbett said he anticipates the plan could morph into something very different if it is passed. But he said he believed his plan was a good starting point.

“What starts at the beginning isn’t always necessarily what you see at the end, because there are 203 members in the House and 50 members in the Senate,” Corbett said, “and everyone on this one is going to have their input on it.”

Contact Melissa Daniels at melissa@paindependent.com

Jeff Lugar February 13, 2013 at 03:10 PM
This can't happen quickly enough. Our system of selling alcohol is so insulting to consumers.
dennis hovanec February 13, 2013 at 06:19 PM
"The state won’t be able to make the same amount of money if it sells off the system without raising taxes, Young said, as Corbett’s plan proposes" -- Well where does Mr. Young think the high revenue from liquor sales comes from? It comes from the Pa residents who have to pay the high prices for the products. Shop in NJ and save $3-$5 a bottle.
Joe Albin February 14, 2013 at 06:53 PM
You can bet your bottle that if the liquor stores are privitized that all taxes will go up in Pennsylvania. Jobs will be lost and unscrupulous private dealers will sell to minors. Also don't be so naive as to say that won't happen. By selling off there will be a one time windfall of cash. By keeping it the way it is there is money coming in every year. People cry about paying a couple of dollars more here than in New Jersey. Well, realize that in the future you will be paying more than a couple of dollars in taxes to make up the deficit. If you're worried about paying a few dollars more , than either go to New Jersey or give up drinking.
James Kephart Jr. February 14, 2013 at 11:48 PM
The other 48 states are not wrong - PA needs to be out of the alcohol business. The PLCB only transfers about 100 million per year to the state. They lie about their profitability in a manner similar to publicly traded companies. Additionally, I am not convinced they even count the cost of their short and long term benefits in the numbers they claim. How about the cost of buildings, vehicles, etc? It would not surprise me to see those costs coming out of the State's budget to make PLCB appear more profitable. Tax receipts from private industry and fees and costs for new licenses would meet and/or exceed what the PLCB currently transfers to the state - and we would get the onetime windfall of cash. Even if all of that were not true - it is not the business of the government to be selling alcohol - period.
James Kephart Jr. February 14, 2013 at 11:49 PM
Utah and PA do have it wrong.
Liberty 1 February 15, 2013 at 06:10 PM
I will believe it when I see it!
V. Altieri February 17, 2013 at 03:05 PM
Don't be fooled by the "prices will be lower" argument. The state of Washington privatized last year and wine and liquor prices have gone up because of the taxes the state has levied on retailers. PA will be no different, the money the state needs has to come from somewhere and the sale of alcohol is an easy place for the legislature to get it.
James Kephart Jr. February 18, 2013 at 01:32 AM
I truly don't give a crap about the price of alcohol - like you said, the state will get what they need. There is just no reason for PA to be so controlling over the alcohol industry. However, if I was a bar that paid 250K to 500K for my license to sell alcohol, I would certainly be keeping an eye on how a change to PA's system would impact me. Now is the time to dump this current joke of a system we have in PA. Corbett will probably be thrown out of office (not sure why considering the actual facts) and if Schwartz gets elected governor, with Kane as here attorney general - we will start seeing more Rendell style governing again - He brought us DROP! If you are unaware of what that is and how that program impacts taxpayers, your vote should not count as much as mine...

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