By Melissa Daniels | PA Independent
HARRISBURG — About two weeks after Gov. Tom Corbett announced plans to privatize the state wine and liquor stores, a new poll shows a majority of voters favor the idea.
Overall, 61 percent of voters favor closing state-run liquor stores, compared to 35 percent who oppose, according to the poll.
Harrisburg’s free-market think tank, the Commonwealth Foundation, commissioned Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz and Associates to conduct the poll.
Corbett’s plan would close state stores, add up to 600 more retail locations, and allow for wine and beer sales in supermarkets and other locations. It would also expand what beer distributors can sell.
Matt Brouillette, CEO of the Commonwealth Foundation, said the state system represents “a great loss of personal and economic freedom” for Pennsylvania consumers.
The poll surveyed 800 voters, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percent and a confidence level of 95 percent. Brouillette called it “the most comprehensive” poll ever on the topic of liquor privatization, as it detailed demographics, consumer specifics, and polled voters after telling them arguments for and against privatization.
The poll found Pennsylvanians who shop at state stores most frequently are those who want to get rid of them.
When broken down by “frequency of purchase,” 77 percent of those who purchase alcohol in state stores weekly support privatization, while 22 percent of those weekly shoppers oppose the idea. Among those who never buy alcohol at state stores, just 35 percent favor privatization, while 58 percent oppose it.
Paul Maslin, a partner with the polling firm, said this was a “significant finding” because it means those who support privatization are those who actually use the state system. And that support, he said, is probably strong, and based on first-hand experiences.
“They are not likely to be dissuaded from their point of view,” she said.
The poll also showed 52 percent of union members support privatizing, and 43 percent do not. One of the most vocal opponents of attempts to privatize the state system is United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1776. The union represents the thousands of state store workers.
Opponents of privatization look at a different set of poll numbers – Corbett’s low approval ratings, which hover in the mid-30s. Wendell Young, president of UFCW Local 1776, said the day of Corbett’s budget address that selling off the state stores won’t do much to help consumers.
“This governor has couched it, at a time when his poll numbers are very low, in terms about convenience,” Young said. “It’s all about convenience. But he’s not talking about the fiscal consequences of doing this to the people who work in the system and the taxpayers who have to make up the shortfall in funding.”
The state won’t be able to make the same amount of money if it sells off the system without raising taxes, Young said, as Corbett’s plan proposes.
Bill Patton, spokesman for House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody, D-Allegheny, said the issue of privatization is rarely on an average Pennsylvanian’s radar — except when a pollster asks them, he said. And, Patton pointed out, support drops if people consider job losses, more sales to underage drinkers, and potentially higher prices.
“The governor claims a public outcry that doesn’t exist,” he told PA Independent. “Most Pennsylvanians would rather he put aside his privatization playbook and gave more time and effort to issues that matter more to the state, starting with jobs.”
But Corbett has been visible and vocal on his privatization plan, pushing for the proposal across the state in attempts to get lawmakers and voters on board.
Most recently, Corbett spoke again about the plan at a Tuesday afternoon press conference in Harrisburg, standing alongside three dozen lawmakers, education officials and business advocates.
His proposal would use the profits from the state system for public education grants used over the next four years.
Corbett said voters often ask him, “Do you really think you can get this done?” He said he tells them yes, then to call their lawmakers.
“Call the district office. Call the office here. Let them know,” Corbett said.
Corbett said he anticipates the plan could morph into something very different if it is passed. But he said he believed his plan was a good starting point.
“What starts at the beginning isn’t always necessarily what you see at the end, because there are 203 members in the House and 50 members in the Senate,” Corbett said, “and everyone on this one is going to have their input on it.”
Contact Melissa Daniels at firstname.lastname@example.org