Energy - February 1, 2013

Corbett unveils liquor privatization plan

Governor Corbett unveiled his much anticipated liquor privatization plan in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, January 30.  Corbett’s plan includes auctioning off 1,200 licenses that would generate $1 billion that he pledged to education funding; noting that since it is a one time payout, the money shouldn’t be factored into budget’s long term.  He noted that the money could go towards school safety, early learning, science and technology, or other programs.

He is also proposing to offer tax credits to businesses that hire any Liquor Control Board employees who may lose their jobs. Corbett indicated that as a free-market system, the overall cost of alcohol should drop since competition tends to drive pricing down.  He’s hoping lower pricing and add convenience will keep some of money that currently gets spent in border states, such as New Jersey, Maryland, and Delaware, inside the Commonwealth.  Dramatically increased fines for selling to minors and the visibly intoxicated will also help bring in additional revenue to the state.

Still, there is some concern that smaller businesses will not be able to compete in the new system.  Opponents are concerned that small beer distributors may be edged out by bigger retailers.  Lt. Governor Cawley made it a point to state that no one applicant will be allowed to own more than 5 percent of the 1,200 licenses.  Additional measures will include dividing up the number of licenses by county and varying the costs of licenses based on location; a better location means a more expensive license.  The plan should also bring Pennsylvania up to the national average for liquor outlets; currently the state sits below average.  Additionally, there is added funding for alcoholism treatment and law enforcement, though the Governor does not believe his overall plan will increase the “social problems” associated with alcohol.  He is aiming to have the state only play the role “regulator” and not “marketer” in the alcohol business.


Breathlyzer tests temporarily suspended in PA

The Pennsylvania State Police and some local police departments have suspended the use of breathlyzer tests after a Dauphin County judge ruled that the machines “cannot be considered accurate beyond a blood-alcohol reading of 0.15 percent;”  because of the way the machines are calibrated.  Judge Lawrence F. Clark Jr. made the ruling in December, prompting the dismissal of breathalyzer evidence in at least 20 DUI cases in Dauphin County.  The cases in which evidence was voided involved individuals who were charged under the state’s highest level of DUI impairment statute; or having a BAC of 0.16 percent or higher.  This week, the Dauphin County District Attorney’s office asked the state Superior Court to overturn the ruling; should Superior Court uphold the ruling, breathalyzer evidence in pending DUI cases all over the state could be void. 

In the meantime the State Police and at least some local departments will be utilizing blood tests on drivers suspected of driving under the influence.  A spokesman for the State Police noted that the using only blood tests may result an increase in motorists charged, since a blood test can also detect illegal substances.