Thursday, January 31, 2013

Corbett 'educates' us on booze battle

Tom Corbett is trying to kill two birds with one stone.

He’s got my vote, but not for the reasons he put forth yesterday.

Corbett, backed by a small army of state reps and other officials from just about every part of the state, took the wraps off his long-awaited plan to get the state out of the booze business.

And just in case he needed it, he added a new wrinkle to the long-playing saga.

Corbett, has long stated his belief that he does not believe Pennsylvania should be in the business of selling alcohol. He believes it would be better done by the private sector. Polls show a majority of Pennsylvanians agree with him.

The governor, who just happens to be staring at what could be a fairly rocky re-election campaign, including a possible challenge from within his own party, has taken a huge amount of heat for his austere budgets in his first two years. Right there at the top of the list has been the effect of those budgets on public education.

So yesterday the governor all but raised a glass and toasted the demise of the hated Liquor Control Board and state stores, and at the same time said he hoped the move would raise $1 billion in new revenue -  for education. Well played, governor.

Of course, he didn’t exactly have to sell me on the idea. I'm the guy who's been screaming for this for years.

I know there are serious revenue questions surrounding this issue. First there is the money Corbett says he will raise by killing off the 600 state stores and then selling somewhere around 1,200 licenses. Then there is the annual revenue those state stores offer to the state. All those numbers have to add up, and not everyone is sure they will.

That’s all well and good.

But it’s not why I want the state out of alcohol sales. I simply want a little more convenience, and hopefully cheaper prices. I want to go to one place - preferably the same place I’m getting my groceries - to grab a a case of beer or bottle of wine for dinner. If I need to grab a six-pack on the way home one night, I’d like to be able to duck into my local Wawa to do it.

What I no longer want to do is make one stop at a beer distributor for a case of beer, a bar or deli for a six-pack (OK, I also stop at Wegmans for this, even though I can’t just toss them in my cart and pay for them along with the rest of the groceries), a state store for a bottle of wine, and maybe one more place for ice and soda.

This was not lost on the governor, either.

In fact, he stressed consumer convenience, along with his education initiative.

Now all he has to do is sell it in Harrisburg. As you might expect, it’s going to be something of a rocky road. Several Republican pols already are offering their doubts.

Surprisingly, among those turning thumb’s down on the situation is the Pennsylvania State Education Association. The teachers union lambasted Corbett’s plan as “just another way of holding students hostage to the governor’s political agenda.

“It’s nice that the governor has acknowledged that he created a school funding crisis, but our students shouldn’t have to count on liquor being available on every corner in order to have properly funded schools.”

As I said, this isn’t going to be easy.

Also as you might guess, Wendell Young IV and his United Food and Commercial Workers Union aren’t big fans of the proposal either. But then they have a bit more vested interest in all this than the teachers. Young’s union represents all those clerks in the state stores who stand to lose their jobs should the privatization push come to fruition. Corbett said he would offer tax credits to private firms as a lure to hire state store workers.

“Fresh off a midnight raid of our state lottery, the governor is targeting 5,000 family-sustaining jobs and more than $500 million a year in taxes and profits that valuable, publicly held asset provides,” Young said.

Sounds like the governor could use a friend.

Count me in, Tom.

You’re right.  Pennsylvania has no business being in the business of selling booze.

Then again, you don’t have to sell me. You have to sell Harrisburg. While you’re running for re-election. While your’re trying to tame the state’s pension crisis. And while you’re trying to find money for education and the state’s crumbling infrastructure and transportation systems.

It’s enough to drive a man to drink.

But at least under your plan you won’t have to go four different places to do it.

 

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