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Politics & Government

House Panel Links Budget To Liquor Privatization

With about a week left before the state budget deadline, House lawmakers have advanced an actual spending plan.

Until now, the House has been teeing up a bill referred to merely as vehicle - last year's budget in new legislation, a placeholder for whenever the Republican majority put together the plan it intended to send to the Senate.

And in some ways, the $29.1 billion spending plan voted out of the House Appropriations Committee Tuesday is still just a vehicle. It's likely to undergo some big changes before heading to the governor's desk.

One of the big eyebrow-raisers in the proposal is an assumption that the state stands to make $380 million by phasing out its state liquor stores under legislation passed by the House last spring.

The Senate has failed to pass that very bill for over a year. Plans under consideration now bear little resemblance to what the House GOP leaders have pushed.

So, it was with a characteristic grin that the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Bill Adolph (R-Delaware), said the proposed budget does not reflect an agreement between the House and Senate.

"The Senate can always amend this bill if they have the revenue sources other than this," said Adolph.

Some are expecting the Senate to make hefty revisions, adding things like a tax on the extraction of natural gas, or other levies. The $1.4 billion dollar budget deficit has even tax-averse lawmakers eyeing new revenues.

The governor has said he's not talking about tax increases until lawmakers pass his other priorities. But since receiving that ultimatum a week ago, neither the House nor Senate has voted on plans to liberalize the sale of wine and beer or scale back pension benefits for future state and public school employees.

After his committee sent the budget bill to the full House, Adolph was asked by KYW's Tony Romeo if predicating $380 million on the longshot of liquor privatization was a serious move.

"Oh, this is serious," said Adolph.