Long list of governors have proposed privatizing liquor stores

It's a rite of passage for Republican governors. Tom Corbett joined the club Wednesday. 

“I am proposing Pennsylvania join the ranks of 48 other states and once and for all get out of the business of selling wine and spirits,” Corbett grandly proclaimed at a Pittsburgh press conference.

Does it sound familiar?

It should.

In 1996, Tom Ridge told the Capitol press corps, “As you know, I've long said the state shouldn't be in the business of selling alcohol.”

And that wasn't an original concept then.

“Governor Dick Thornburgh's personal philosophy has been that government should not be in the business of selling liquors and wines,” boomed former abc27 reporter Mike Ross in his signature baritone on file tape from the station's archives.

The year was 1981 and Thornburgh's complaints are still echoed today.

“Poor inventory and selection, inconvenient hours and locations, unattractive stores, illogical pricing policies,” Thornburgh complained about state stores during a press conference in front of odd blue drapery that was the official backdrop at the time.

For these Republican chief executives, it's been a decades-long hangover — and a rite of passage that never gains passage.

“It's another battle, another governor,” said David Filman of AFSCME local 13.

Fillman and his union brethren, who represent 5,000 state store workers, are gearing up for battle. In the past, they've successfully bottled up privatization plans in the legislature by uniting pro-union Democrats with anti-alcohol Republicans who want strict controls on booze. It's been a powerful mixture.

“We don't think this battle's gonna be any different than years before,” said Fillman. “Because a lot of the legislators are scratching their heads and saying 'Why are we getting rid of this profitable enterprise?'”

“It's an uphill battle,” said Nate Benefield of the conservative Commonwealth Foundation which supports privatization. “I won't say that it's gonna be an easy sell.”

But pro-business groups are hopeful that this time the public with force legislators to drink from the privatization pond.

“Polls consistently show 60 to 70 percent of Pennsylvanians want this,” said Benefield. “People are going to other states to buy alcohol. Clearly the public wants this and we think the time is now.”

So there's a new governor at the helm and new wind in the sails, but many expect this privatization push to go the same way as its predecessors.

A closer look at the station's archive shows the past might be prologue. Nearly 20 years ago, late reporter Mike Ross said this: “Attempts to privatize the state's liquor and wine stores is very much like a new legislative session,” Ross said in a 1996 standup. “It comes around every two years.”

That statement would be appropriate today.

Proposals don't actually come around every two years.

It just feels that way.

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