Friday, March 22, 2013

A little House whine on the road to privatization

It's pretty safe to say that state Rep. Bill Adolph and I have not always been on the same page.

Adolph, R-165, of Springfield, is not shy about calling - and sometimes even visiting - the newspaper when he disagrees with something we've written. And he doesn't mind firing back with opinion pieces of his own.

So I had to smile yesterday when I heard his defense as Democrats attacked legislation that would lead to privatization of alcohol sales in Pennsylvania.

We're on the same page. Go get 'em, Bill.

One of the red flags being raised by Democrats to keep the archaic system the Commonwealth now uses to sell wine and spirits is that turning it over to private enterprise will lead to a host of social problems, including a spike in alcohol ills, and an increase in underage drinkers getting their mitts on hooch.

Enter Adolph.

The chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee wondered how Democrats could make that argument out of one side of their mouth, while out of the other espousing the belief that the answer is really to modernize the state store system to make them more consumer friendly.

Damn good point, representative.

Eventually, Adolph and his Republican colleagues prevailed. The House voted 105-90, for the most part along party lines, to back privatization and send the bill to the Senate. You can read the story here.

Before you start popping champagne corks, you might want to read the comments of another powerful Delco pol. Sen. Dominic Pileggi, R-9, of Chester, cautions that the Senate is in no rush to take up the legislation, and he assures us that the bill will likely be altered some more in that chamber.

Swell.

This is already a watered-down version of what Gov. Tom Corbett originally proposed. But that didn't stop the governor from acting downright giddy after the vote last night.

I can't say I blame him. If I had his approval ratings, and I needed a win as desperately as he does, I guess I'd be happy, too.

But this is not going to blow up the state store system, as I have proposed for years.

The state stores will remain in business.

First crack at those private licenses will go to beer distributors, who then will decide if they want to add wine and liquor to the cases of beer they currently sell.

Privately operated outfits such as sales in supermarkets or Total Wine wouldn't happen for another year after that.

The state stores wouldn't disappear for years.

But there is something else Pileggi said that gave me a bit of a queasy feeling. The senator has made it clear he's in the camp of modernizing the system, making it more convenient and more consumer friendly, as opposed to blowing things up.

That sounds to me decidedly like the status quo. How about this? I don't really care how it's done, I just want to go one place for all my needs. If you want to add beer sales (and that means singles, six-packs and cases) at the state store, that would be fine by me. Although I'm pretty sure the beer distributors wouldn't be thrilled by it.

But I also want to bring in private enterprise. That means beer, wine and alcohol in supermarkets, and cold six-packs in my local Wawa or convenience stores.

That certainly sounds convenient to me.

The House has spoken. The ball's now in your court, Sen. Pileggi.

Bring on the amendments!

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