Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Tom Corbett & the Pa. booze battle

Tom Corbett, my man!

Today is Tom Corbett’s day, at least so far as one lone editor’s voice in the wilderness goes. For years - and at least four governors - I have been advocating the idea of blowing up the state store system and turning the archaic methods Pennsylvania uses to sell beer, wine and spirits over to private enterprise.

These thoughts were forged during a misguided youth growing up in Oxford, Pa., just five minutes from Rising Sun, Md., and the legendary Johnson’s liquors and Buck’s Place saloon. Back then, the legal drinking age in Maryland was 18.

But it wasn’t just kids making that trip across the Mason-Dixon Line. Most days you’d need a calculator to count the Pa. plates in the parking lot at Buck’s. Why? Easy. The selection was great, the prices were a lot cheaper, and most importantly, you could buy everything you wanted - beer, wine or spirits - in one place. Remember, this was the era when you had to walk up to a counter in Pennsylvania’s dungeon-like state stores and inform the clerk precisely what you wanted. Any questions about a certain wine would most times bring a response something akin to, “What do I look like, the phone book?”

Then I went to school in Colorado, and really had my eyes opened.

I’ll never forget the first time I stopped in a 7-Eleven store and was jarred at the site of a cold case with 6-packs of beer right beside the checkout counter. My first trip to the grocery store was even more of a revelation. There I saw entire aisles filled with every beer, wine or bottle of booze you cold imagine.

But not back here in the land of giants.

Gov. Corbett wants to change that. Then again maybe he took a look at the latest poll and his tanking favorability ratings and it drove him to drink.

Today the governor will unveil his plan to privatize the way the state sells alcohol. He wants to blow up the state stores, sell off the licenses and open beer sales to grocery and convenience stores.

Right now in Pennsylvania, consumers are forced to make one stop for a case of beer, another if they want to buy a six pack, and still one more, to a state store, for wine and spirits.

Corbett isn’t the first governor to go down this road. It’s not even his first dalliance with privatizing liquor sales. But the last session he let state Rep. Mike Turzi, R-Alllegheny, do the heavy lifting. This time he’s planning to be out front on the issue, starting this afternoon with a press conference in Pittsburgh.

It’s just the latest in a series of high-profile moves by the governor, starting with his decision to file a lawsuit against the NCAA in connection with sanctions slapped on Penn State in the wake of the Sandusky affair; a transportation plan that seems to fly in the face of his no-tax-hike pledge; a move to privatize management of the state lottery; and some very stern warnings on the state’s flagging public pension plans.

Yesterday’s poll numbers probably didn’t have any effect on Corbett’s moves, but they certainly didn’t help. They show a very unpopular governor who faces a massive gender gap with women, and surprisingly isn’t even all that popular among Republicans. Maybe that’s one reason Montgomery Commissioner and maverick GOPer Bruce Castor has been hinting about a possible primary challenge to Corbett.

Yesterday even some Republicans were sounding a note of caution to the governor on both the pension and alcohol plans.

Not me.

I say, “Go for it,” governor.

Your ratings are in the toilet. You’ve been widely spanked as being aloof and not someone who delivers his message as well as he should, let alone navigate the political mine field in Harrisburg. So I’ll be very interested to hear what the governor has to say this afternoon.

And if he needs a volunteer to be there with his hands on the plunger when we finally blow up the LCB, I would remind him that I’ve been volunteering for the job for years now.

 

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