Gov. Tom Corbett's plan to sell off Pennsylvania's wine and spirits stores puts him in the position of taking the lead on one issue he's long championed.

 

But it also means he's supporting something he's long shied away from: one-time funding windfalls for education.

The big surprise with Corbett's liquor privatization plan came about five minutes into his announcement Wednesday in Pittsburgh.

"The selling of alcohol is not the core responsibility of government. But education is," he said.

To help meet that responsibility, Corbett is suggesting that proceeds from auctioning a wealth of different kinds of licenses -- to sell wine and liquor, to sell beer and wine, to sell six-packs of beer instead of whole cases -- should go to education.

Corbett said the state would realize $1 billion over a four-year period, Under his plan, the funds would go straight into a grant program reserved for public schools.

Therein lies the trick for the governor, who has repeatedly chastised schools that used one-time federal stimulus funds to patch over structural deficits, instead of using them for one-time expenses, such as construction projects.

The state's largest teachers union swiftly objected to the governor's attempt to hitch his plan to their wagon.

The Pennsylvania State Education Association calls the plan a way of "holding students hostage to the governor's political agenda."

The governor says he's also proposing tax credits for businesses that employ state liquor store workers.
The unions representing those employees also are denouncing the governor's privatization plan.

Corbett's privatization plan includes shutting down the more than 600 state-owned wine and liquor stores as well as creating a way for beer distributors to bid on liquor and wine licenses.

The governor said he has no interest in modernizing the system and keeping it under state control, as some lawmakers, including Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati, have proposed.

"I do not simply want to reduce it or to trim it a little here and a little there, as I have heard so many other people talk about," Corbett said. "If we are to gain the advantages of consumer choice and greater consumer convenience, we should not do it halfway."