State College, PA - Centre County - Central Pennsylvania - Home of Penn State University

In State College, Opinions Deviate Over Governor's Liquor Privatization Bill

by on March 21, 2013 3:43 PM

As Gov. Tom Corbett's liquor privatization bill makes its way through the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, Rep. Scott Conklin is worried about the effects it could have on State College. 

Tor Michaels, Conklin's chief of staff, said the democratic representative from Centre County "stands firmly" with State College Mayor Elizabeth Goreham, police chief Tom King and several statewide organizations in opposing the bill Michaels says the legislation could have a negative impact on State College and the Penn State community. One issue, he said, is that like other towns surrounded by a university, privatizing liquor will only exacerbate an already-existing alcohol problem. 

"Does State College need more selection right now? I think, if you would ask the [local] leaders, they would say there's too much selection already," Michaels said. "We think it's the wrong way to go. The senate should put the breaks on this legislation ASAP." 

Corbett's push to privatize state stores has hit a nerve -- almost everyone feels strongly one way or another. readers are split over the bill. Some people call it "long overdue," and said it's "finally" time the government stepped back and let free enterprise run its course. Others told us privatization could end up costing the state much-needed revenue..

In February, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board shut down state stores in State College on State Patty's Day weekend in an effort to curb reckless drinking during the student-created holiday. Michaels said if the bill passes, not only would those stores be able to stay open, but they might even extend their hours and cater to longer lines of students hoping to spend a Saturday binge drinking. 

Michaels said borough leadership should have the ability to take action that curbs dangerous drinking in town. 

"I have to applaud the efforts of local leaders and their recent handling of State Patty's Day. Clearly, the community has come together. The [arrest] numbers were down," he said. 

The bill also poses a threat to revenue and jobs in the area, Michaels said. While the state system may need to be modernized, he said, it should not be at the expense of the taxpayers. Some supporters of the bill have said it will bring in more revenue, but its opponents have rallied against that idea.

"Half a billion a year is brought into the coffers of the state," he said. "We think Pa. may have the model, when you think about the money generated and what it does that saves the taxpayers in the long run." 

"It's not just a revenue issue, it's a job issue. Here we are in a slow recovery in the state and where are they going to find these good-paying jobs," Michaels said. 

Many Republican representatives have heard from the state's distributors – Michaels said there are 1200 in Pa. – who are concerned about who will pay for the buyout plan they'll be offered if the bill passes.

Anthony Christina, a Penn State senior and Chairman of the Pennsylvania Federation of College Republicans said he supports the bill and the state getting out of the liquor business. 

"I think it's an issue of simple economics," Christina said. "It's a big government issue. I can't think of another item – liquor is the only thing the state has its hands in." 

Christina said he believes liquor privatization would ultimately benefit the consumer. It gives students more options, he said, and there's no reason it would lend to a more dangerous drinking environment. The bill isn't necessarily going to create more liquor stores, he said, but rather "safely sell off the licenses." 

"It will benefit those individuals that like to consume quality wine, quality whiskey, craft beer," Christina said. "The students that are going to buy the cheap stuff are always going to buy the cheap stuff."


Legislators are expecting the vote to go through Thursday, although it may be pushing the 11 p.m. time limit because amendments could be added to the bill. Its path could also change in the senate. Though he said he thinks it has the votes, Michaels said the bill could come back from the senate "looking completely different" after potential changes are made to the bill.

"It faces an uncertain future," he said. "It might die a slow death in the conference committee."

Laura Nichols is a news reporter and @LC_Nichols on Twitter.
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