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Lawmakers: Use liquor privatization money for roads, bridges - abc27 WHTM

Lawmakers: Use liquor privatization money for roads, bridges

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) -

Call it "Booze for Bridges."

A plan by state Representative Jerry Knowles (R-Berks/Schuylkill) on how to spend money earned by privatization of the state's liquor stores emerged Monday afternoon.

"The governor has a good idea, but I have a great idea, a better idea," Knowles said to laughter at a Capitol news conference.

Knowles's big idea is to take profit from the sale of liquor stores and pour them into Pennsylvania's crumbling roads and bridges.

"We can fix a safety hazard, or begin to fix a safety hazard, that we all know exists and we can put people back to work fixing those roads and bridges," Knowles said.

Senator David Argall (R-Berks/Schuylkill), whose chamber has yet to pass or introduce a privatization bill, supports Knowles's plan.

"We either have to figure out a way to fix our roads and bridges or sit back and watch them fall apart," Argall said. "I think we would all agree that's simply unacceptable."

Of course, this creates a bit of conflict with Governor Tom Corbett, who called for liquor money to be spent on education. House Republicans criticized the concept because they fear it would become another federal stimulus whereby schools create programs that would have to be funded long after booze bucks dried up.

"When you give money to the education establishment like this, it's like throwing it into a black hole, because all it will be used for is to drive those [teacher's] salaries up," said Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler).

The conservative Commonwealth Foundation, which has been in favor of liquor privatization for years, supports Knowles's plan and calls infrastructure a core function of government.

"The teacher's union has said they don't want this money and PennDOT certainly could use it far better in filling potholes and repairing bridges," Commonwealth Foundation President Matt Brouillette said. "We think that would be an appropriate use of this money."

Granted, there is no money until the Senate passes a bill to privatize liquor stores, which at this point is not certain. Several senators have publicly said they don't support the House version.

Knowles's legislation, House Bill 220, also muddies the water for the governor's transportation plan. Corbett wants to uncap the oil franchise tax, which likely drives up the price at the pump for motorists. The governor would also increase a few fees to raise money for roads, bridges and mass transit.

House Republicans on Monday made clear they won't support any of the governor's hikes if he doesn't first plow privatization profits into infrastructure.

"How can you begin to think about raising taxes or raising fees when you're gonna have a billion dollars laid at your doorstep?" Knowles asked. "It's just a no-brainer to me. I don't get it."

Corbett has given himself wiggle room. In the past, he's said he would like privatization money to be spent on education, but has always added it's open for discussion.

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