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Editorial - Ridge's wise retreat

September 24, 1997

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge has wisely backed off a threat to hold up state funding for a wide range of building projects unless the Pennsylvania legislature approved the sale of 665 state liquor stores. It was a bad idea from the get-go, and the Ridge administration's legislation only made it worse.

Ridge's original bill would have used money from liquor store sales to pay for new sports stadiums, always a questionable use of state money. Opposition to that idea forced the governor to revise the bill in March, so that the estimated $600 million would have gone to scholarships and community projects.

But opponents of the bill pointed out that privatizing state liquor sales still would have: cost state employees their jobs, authorized an additional 102 liquor outlets and changed store closing hours from the current 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. It was a combination lawmakers or citizens weren't ready to swallow.

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We've heard all the arguments against state involvement in the liquor business. We don't buy them, for one reason: State employees have a lot more to lose than private store clerks, and thus more reasons to be vigilant when it comes to checking IDs or determining whether a customer is already intoxicated.

Liquor is not milk, but an intoxicating beverage that, if abused, can lead to criminal, medical and social problems. Since the state and Pennsylvania taxpayers have to foot the bill for much of alcohol's ill effects, they have a vested interest in controlling its distribution.

Finally, as we've said before, any government's proposal to sell public assets triggers an alarm with us. Too often the property is sold and the profits spent on some cause that provides immediate goodwill for office-holders, but no long-term benefit for taxpayers. Ridge's confusion about what he wanted to use the money for was proof of that, but we remain ready to consider the next proposal with an open mind. The one thing we're sure of is that we haven't heard the last of this issue.

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