The Senate liquor hearings got underway this morning, and yesterday Joe Scarnati set the stage when he told the Pennsylvania Press Club that serious work remains before his chamber signs off on privatization.
"Of course, we have the bill from the House, which the House bill, believe it or not, does not have a lot of support," the Senate president pro tem told the group of reporters and lobbyists.
In March, the House passed legislation that would allow private sales of wine and liquor while phasing out the system of state stores.
Scarnati has signed on as a co-sponsor of an alternate proposal by Sen. Chuck McIlhinney, who will oversee the hearings as chairman of the Senate Law & Justice Committee, that would maintain the wholesale purchasing system of the Liquor Control Board while creating a new license to let holders of hotel and restaurant licenses sell wine and liquor to go.
Scarnati told the crowd yesterday he is concerned the existing proposal would hurt the business model of beer distributors.
"What my concern is, as we move forward through this process, we have many small families and individuals who have made investments over the years, and I'm speaking the beer distributors," he said.
"So finding and striking a balance in doing what is the ideology of the-state-should-be-out-of-the-liquor-business and moving that into a more consumer-friendly atmosphere is how we're going to try and strike the balance here in the Senate, and not put small businesspeople with closed-forever signs out."
After several press questions about liquor, Scarnati turned to the topic of the state budget -- due in two months -- and the lackluster revenues the state has collected.
"So if we're going to fixate ourselves on liquor and not have a budget meeting -- we haven't had a meeting of substance on the budget yet and it's almost May and revenues are not looking good," he said. "We still have a lot of legislative priorities for the budget, and I can tell you, whatever form privatization takes, it will be a net cost to the budget. ... You cannot go in and shut the LCB off like a light switch."
The line of the luncheon came when Scarnati was asked about a bill he sponsored that would move oversight of feral swine from the Pennsylvania Game Commission to the Department of Agriculture. (Two swine preserves in Tioga County, he explained.) The bill is now in a House committee.
"We start talking about pensions and transportation and liquor and the budget," Scarnati said. "Just give me a feral swine bill. That's all I want. Then I think that sets the tone."