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Pa. liquor board reports record sales

July 06, 2011

HARRISBURG, Pa. — While a consultant wraps up a study into the pros and cons of privatizing Pennsylvania's state-controlled liquor and wine business, the current proprietor said Tuesday that its financial condition has never looked better.

The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board said sales at state stores for the year that ended Thursday set a record at nearly $2 billion — a 4 percent increase from last year — and generated a record $496 million in profit and tax revenue for the state treasury to help finance other state services.

"Never in the history of this agency has the PLCB delivered such strong returns," said board chairman P.J. Stapleton, who attributed the growth to efforts in recent years to "run the PLCB more like a business."

The board's statement drew flak from a Harrisburg-based conservative group that advocates for the privatization of liquor and wine sales.

The Commonwealth Foundation called the notion of government running a business for profit "un-American."

"It's time government stopped acting like privatization and just started acting to privatize," foundation spokesman Jay Ostrich said.

One of the board's strongest allies in the fight for its survival is the largest state-store employee union. Leaders of Local 1776 of the United Food and Commercial Workers argue that private owners could not match the performance of the more than 600 state stores in collecting state taxes, enforcing the drinking age or offering a broad selection of products at competitive prices.

Advocates of privatization, who include Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, say the state stands to receive a sizable financial windfall from the sale of liquor licenses and that the government should not be in the liquor and wine business in the first place.

Estimates of how much money is at stake have ranged as high as $2 billion, but no up-to-date, independent analysis is available. Earlier this year, Corbett directed Public Financial Management Inc., a national firm that has a contract with the state budget office, to appraise the value of the licenses and the logistics of privatization. Its report is due later this month.

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