State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Katie Meyer covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.
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Charting a new route for liquor privatization money

Written by Mary Wilson, Former Capitol Bureau Chief | Apr 15, 2013 7:57 PM
Thumbnail image for liquorstore.jpg

Photo by Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board website

A small group of House Republicans are chiming in with their own ideas about how to spend the money raised if a plan to phase out the state’s wine and spirits stores goes to the governor’s desk. The gang of eight House members (and one Senate Republican) wants the as-yet-hypothetical sum to go toward fixing roads and bridges.

The measure clashes with the Corbett administration’s own proposal to put liquor privatization revenue into a grant fund for schools, but its sponsor, Rep. Jerry Knowles (R-Berks) said he’s not trying to make waves.

“The governor has a good idea,” said Knowles. “It’s just that I have a better idea.”

House Republican spokesman Steve Miskin said backers of the plan don’t speak for the entire House GOP caucus or leadership, and characterized the Knowles bill as the kind of crop that typically blooms during budget season.

“When there’s a pot of money, you will see some members try to spend it fifteen different ways,” said Miskin. The liquor privatization proposal that passed the House includes language that puts any revenue generated from the effort into a reserve account, with its final destination unspecified. “There’s going to be a discussion once privatization hits the governor’s desk. Obviously the next discussion is what to do with the money,” said Miskin.

But Knowles and the backers of his measure say now is the time to start debating how money from liquor privatization should be spent.

The bill passed the state House on the premise it would go into grants for schools.

Rep. Brad Roae (R-Crawford) pointed out that the state’s largest teachers union, the Pennsylvania State Education Association, criticized the Corbett administration for linking education funding to the controversial liquor privatization proposal.

“Now if the teachers don’t want the money, maybe we shouldn’t give the money to them,” said Roae. “I’ve had nobody from PennDOT tell me they don’t want the money.”

House Democrats and Republicans disagree over how much money would be generated by the privatization plan that passed the House, but it wouldn’t be enough to deal with the state’s annual multi-billion dollar transportation funding gap.

Knowles said money from liquor privatization should be a supplement for, not a replacement of, any larger transportation funding proposal. But he’s dangling his vote in the air at those who are intent on passing a larger transportation funding package.

“It’s going to be difficult for me to consider raising fees or raising any kind of taxes if we don’t…” Knowles stopped himself. “Now I don’t want to back myself into a corner, here, but what I’m saying is that to me, this money, whether it be $750 million or a billion, should go to transportation.”

He said he didn’t introduce his bill earlier because he didn’t want to endanger the passage of the liquor privatization plan.

“Quite frankly, I thought it was in the best interest to just kind of keep my powder dry until we got it at least through the House,” said Knowles.


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