Senate Liquor Legislation Expected Today

State Senator Charles McIlhinney is expected to unveil his legislation today dealing with the liquor business in Pennsylvania. McIlhinney recently chaired a series of hearings on the proposal to privatize the booze business in PA, hearings that sometimes became contentious as union-backed opponents of privatization, including some lawmakers, expressed their outrage at the plan to close more than 600 state stores across the Commonwealth.

What will be included in the Senate bill is still a mystery, but McIlhinney indicated during the third and final hearing that he did not support Governor Tom Corbett’s plan to use the proceeds from the sale of the state stores for education block grants. The governor calls the plan “Passport for Learning.” Opponents dubbed it “Shots for Tots.”

The state House of Representatives passed a plan earlier this year that did not include the block grants. It is possible the Senate could follow suit and propose a privatization plan that does not include specifics on the use of the proceeds. In that case, the money would be set aside and its use would be determined at a later date.

Governor Tom Corbett has been pushing privatization since taking office in 2011. He says the state should not be in the business of selling alcohol, but the elimination of the state store system would mean the loss of thousands of jobs, and despite plans for job assistance, it’s unlikely that all state store and PLCB employees would find immediate work.

Meanwhile, retailers like Pennsylvania-based Sheetz convenience stores are pushing hard for the privatization effort. Sheetz employees wear pins promoting the potential sale of beer and advocates for the various chain retailers have been regulars on Capitol Hill in Harrisburg. It is arguably the most heavily-lobbied issue in a year full of big issues in Harrisburg.

Most agree something has to change, but privatization opponents are pushing for what they call a “modernization” effort. For now, that is likely to be the fallback Plan B should privatization fail to pass before the summer break.