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Details Scarce as Senate GOP Wrangles Votes on Liquor Bill

State Senate Republicans are expected to offer their own counter-proposal to the House's plan to phase out state wine and spirits stores and privatize the state's wholesale operation.

But details of the proposal are still under wraps. When asked for a status update on the bill, Senate Appropriations Chairman Jake Corman (R-Centre) said, with a laugh, "That's a great question."

Republicans have not marched in lock-step on the issue of liquor privatization or the liberalization of alcohol sales in Pennsylvania. But all 23 Senate Democrats are standing firm against any effort to dismantle the state-owned system in place for selling wine and liquor.

"We're going to continue to advocate for a modernization plan," said Democratic Minority Leader Jay Costa.

His caucus' modernization plan would aim to make the existing system more profitable by allowing things like longer state store hours and price variance between stores.

Costa said he's still not lobbying GOP colleagues because all he's heard about their counter-proposal is scuttlebutt.

"We know that there was a lengthy caucus about it last week on the Republican side," Costa said. "You hear different stories about the outcome of that but at the end of the day, what we do know is that we have 23 votes for a modernization effort and not for a privatization effort."

Sen. Chuck McIlhinney (R-Montgomery) is chairman of relevant committee on this issue. He has said he would introduce legislation this week to overhaul all manner of alcohol sales in Pennsylvania, having renounced the plan passed by the state House.

But McIlhinney has been vague on the details of the proposal, saying only that he wants customers to be able to buy alcohol — beer, wine, and liquor — in more kinds of stores. He's also said he'd like his bill to allow for the phasing out of state stores, but he's not keen on selling off the state's wine and liquor wholesale operation, a point of some contention with free market proponents in Harrisburg.

Corman said he still hasn't seen the details of McIlhinney's plan.

"Look, we need 26 votes," Corman said. "The question is, if the Democrats aren't going to put up any, do we have 26 out of 27 members of the Republican caucus willing to vote for this? I don't know that we do. I think it'd be a very hard lift without any Democratic votes."