Pennsylvania remains one of the few states that operate liquor stores, and some people including lawmakers have long claimed it's high time that it give up that control and privatize the shops selling wine and other spirits.
Each of the area candidates for state House and Senate seats in this year's primary election were asked their views on privatizing the stores.
The candidates are Republicans Christopher Bain and Harry Rogers and Democrat Rick Mirabito, 83rd state House; Garth Everett, 84th state House; Democrat Luana Cleveland and Republicans Dave Huffman and E. Eugene Yaw, 23rd state Senate.
83rd state House
"I am so in favor of privatizing the liquor stores," said Republican Christopher Bain. "I am not just for it. (If elected) I'll co-sponsor the bill. I'll even write it."
Bain, who is staging a write-in campaign in the primary, said the government simply does not belong in the business of selling liquor and feels privatizing the stores would be in the best interest of the state.
"Government was not formed to run a business," he said.
It's better, he said, to have liquor stores be privately run and competing against each other.
He doesn't agree with the argument that the government can do a better job of controlling illegal sales, including to minors.
"Just because the state doesn't own the stores doesn't mean things can't be enforced," he said. "I haven't seen any facts that there would be more underage drinking without it being a government-run liquor store. I actually think the enforcement would be better because their (private store operators) own butts are on the line. If they sell to an underage person, they will be slapped with a huge fine and lose their licenses."
Bain also feels that the state can certainly work out a way to continue reaping tax revenues from sales of liquor, even if the stores are privatized.
Beyond that, the state will no longer be paying their own employees to work in the stores.
Bain's primary opponent, Harry Rogers, agreed that the state should not be in the business of running liquor stores.
The Republican candidate feels, however, that the state should continue to ensure enforcement activities.
"I think they (state officials) should regulate it and the collection of taxes should stay with the state," he said. "We want to be able to maintain the revenue. I think we need to keep control of taxation. You're making money on sales, but not the cost of maintaining personnel and facilities."
Incumbent Democrat Rick Mirabito argued that liquor stores should remain under state control.
And now, he said, would certainly not be the time to sell the stores to private concerns.
"When a businessman goes to sell his assets, he does it when the income is highest," said Mirabito, who is facing no opposition in the primary. "The value (of business) is based on its income stream. Lately, the revenue stream for liquor stores hasn't been great. It may not be the best time."
Mirabito pointed out problems that come with privatizing the stores.
At least one study, he said, has shown that state stores in rural areas would get replaced by big box stores.
"Most of the big box stores are headquartered out of Pennsylvania, which means profits would go out of state," he said. "Right now, all profits are in state."
That means, he explained, that those businesses could escape paying taxes to the state. Beyond that, many state workers would lose their jobs if the stores were sold to private entities.
Mirabito said the state manages to capture all the tax revenues from sales of liquor and wine at the state stores. That likely wouldn't happen if stores were privately owned and operated, he added.
The lawmaker has concerns about enforcement of liquor sales if the stores become privatized.
"The Pennsylvania DUI Association estimates that privatization would lead to 50 more deaths per year and 2,000 more alcohol-related vehicle accidents," he said.
Finally, Mirabito said the typical state store would carry a far wider variety of brands of wine and liquor than private stores.
84th state House
"From a purely government function point of view I don't think the government belongs in what should be a private business," Everett said. "Historically, in Pennsylvania we got into it (state liquor stores) while the rest of the country has moved on. I'd like to see us move in that direction, regulated by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, but not operated by the PLCB."
Everett, running unopposed in the primary, said the current system hasn't worked out badly for Lycoming County and privatization is not an issue he hears much about from constituents.
But he still favors privatization.
"We should not be in the booze business," he said.
The issue looms bigger, he noted, in more populated areas and along the state's borders.
Everett doesn't agree that the state will lose tax revenues through privatization.
"You can make it revenue neutral. You can find ways to make money," he said. "In my view it should not be a revenue discussion. We can make money whether it's a state store or not."
23rd state Senate
Cleveland said she doesn't favor privatization of liquor stores.
And the idea of selling the stores for a one-time windfall to shore up a budget deficit doesn't make sense.
"I think it's really short-sighted when you can't fund our schools to get a one-time payment for solving the crisis of our budget," said Cleveland, who is running unopposed. "This isn't really a bipartisan issue. (Former Gov.) Casey tried to pass it. (Gov.) Corbett is trying to pass it.
Beyond that, it would mean giving up revenues for the future.
Enforcement of liquor sales is yet another issue, she noted.
"I think they already have a problem enforcing it," she said. "The system is only as strong as its weakest link. If kids can find someone to buy for them, they will. You might as well leave things as they are for a while."
"A true conservative believes that private concerns better control business," Huffman said. "We need less government all the way around. It's always better to have private control. This may be a horse of a different color in some respects. It's been a long-standing tradition. You can't just turn the key overnight and change, but do it in steps."
Enforcement, Huffman said, could raise some issues if the stores are privately owned.
"That's one thing you have to guard against," he said. "You have to watch for people drinking under age. You have to have systems in place. What if your clerks aren't used to carding people correctly? It's taken for granted that everything will just fall into place. Obviously, there will be some growing pains."
Huffman said he feels privately run stores would benefit the consumer with better pricing and more choices of wine and liquor.
"What happens is it's more competitive," he said. "It's privatized and decisions are made by retailers."
Huffman addressed the concerns of the state losing tax revenues.
"I think there is much from the budget that can be cut and more," he said. "That can be part of the equation to cut the spending."
Huffman said he is concerned that with privatization could come the loss of state jobs, although those employees could find similar jobs in the private sector.
"Again, it's not as easy as you think making the conversion. Employees would have to be trained. There is a lot to consider here. It would have to be done gradually. I don't think you want to cut out all the stores overnight. Perhaps implement a five- to 10-year plan."
Also to be sorted out would be the question of who gets licenses.
"That's a big question," he said.
State Sen. E.?Eugene Yaw, R-Loyalsock Township, said he would support the privatization of liquor stores, but he doesn't see it happening anytime soon.
"I think it's very doubtful," he said. "It's not a Democrat or Republican issue. I think the position labor takes with the question of privatization is one issue. There are about 4,000 unionized workers employed by state stores. They garner a lot of support from fellow union members. They can put a lot of pressure on the issue."
He doesn't buy into the notion that the stores would not be as well policed if they are privatized.
"I don't see that as an issue. The rationale for enforcement is just as great or greater if it were in the private sector," he said.
In other words, there's simply more at stake for an entrepreneur.
"What are the ramifications for state liquor stores when those employees commit violations?" he asked.
Yaw said he doesn't see loss of revenues as an issue if liquor stores are privatized.
"We can recover revenues through an appropriate tax structure," he said.
The incumbent reiterated that he just doesn't see privatization happening.
"I don't think the support is there like it was initially," he said. "This is pretty much a House issue. We (Senate) have been waiting for a bill to come out of the House. The House has not really been able to get a bill that they can agree on. There are too many factions. As a result, there has been no agreement."