State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.

Corbett's liquor privatization plan comes with grants for schools

Written by Mary Wilson, Capitol Bureau Chief | Jan 30, 2013 6:07 PM
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Photo by Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board website

The big surprise of Governor Corbett’s liquor privatization plan came about five minutes into his announcement.

“The selling of alcohol is not the core responsibility of government,” Corbett said, appearing to signal the coda on the first section of his speech. “But education is,” he continued.

Privatizing the state liquor and spirits stores would necessitate the auctioning of a whole lot of different kinds of licenses – to sell wine and liquor, to sell beer and wine, to sell six-packs of beer instead of whole cases.

The proceeds from those sales would go straight into a grant program reserved for public schools, under Corbett’s plan – he said it would yield $1 billion over a four-year period.

“This grant focuses on four core areas,” said the governor. “School safety, early learning, individualized learning, and STEM: science, technology, engineering, and math.”

Therein lies the trick for the governor, who has repeatedly chastised schools that used one-time federal stimulus funds to patch over structural deficits, instead of using them for one-time expenses, like construction projects.

State Education Secretary Ron Tomalis explained that schools would have flexibility with the grant funds, but be urged against using the money for continuing expenses.

“What we don’t want to do is go into a mistake that we went through this past couple years in public education,” said Tomalis, noting the use of stimulus dollars for ongoing expenses under former Gov. Ed Rendell’s administration.

“But it will be up to the school district to determine what the actual needs are,” said Tomalis.

The state’s largest teachers union swiftly objected to the governor’s attempt to hitch his plan to their wagon. The Pennsylvania State Education Association called it a way of “holding students hostage to the governor's political agenda.”

One Senate Democrat, John Yudichak (Luzerne), called the plan an “alcohol funded stimulus package.”

Corbett’s privatization plan includes shutting down the more than 600 state-owned wine and liquor stores as well as creating a way for beer distributors to bid on liquor and wine licenses and sell beer six-packs (not just cases of beer).

The governor said he’s also proposing tax credits for businesses that employ state liquor store workers, though the offer didn’t stop the union representing a portion of state store employees from denouncing the plan.

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