The senate's main hallway in the Capitol is mostly quiet the week of Passover/Easter.
But the bustle and din figures to pick up noticably when senators return April 8. Lobbyists will pack those hallways pushing for or against liquor privatization. Union workers in yellow t-shirts will yell their opposition in boisterous rallies.
After years of trying to push a privatization bill through the house, and succeeding last week, the drama will shift to the other side of the building.
In short, a booze blitz is headed the senate's way.
In the eye of the storm will be Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R-Chester). He may be the perfect person to deal with intense pressure because he's as low-key a politician, publicly at least, as you'll find in Harrisburg.
He speaks in deliberate, monotone cadence. He is buttoned-down and analytical in his response to all questions. He is also unflappable, which will come in handy when the emotionally charged, hyperbole-filled, liquor circus comes to his chamber.
Pileggi sat down with me on Wednesday and made clear that House Bill 790 that passed last week is not going to survive in its current form.
He says, true to his form, that compromise and hard work by all parties will be required.
“I'm not sure that the house bill satisfies what to me is the demand, which is a very simple one, people want to be able to walk in the supermarket or convenience store and buy a bottle of wine or six pack of beer with their groceries. I'm not sure the house bill gets there as well as it could.”
Many senators, Pileggi says, prefer making government-run liquor stores more customer- friendly. They'd rather modernize than privatize.
He also worries alcohol could be too free-flowing under the house's plan.
“Should we issue as many licenses as there are people who want to buy them? Should we have outlets for beer, wine, and liquor on every street corner in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania?”
Pileggi said there will be one or two public hearings on the issue in April, but added a a warning that any measure must be passed with the budget or it's likely to get bottled up for a year.
“If we don't get this finished by June 30, I think it's unlikely that we'll be able to close on an agreement in the fall.”
So privatization is as close as it's ever been in history. The house has passed a bill. The governor is salivating over a chance to pass something. All that stands in the way is the senate.
Twenty-six votes to be exact.