What’s next in the fight to privatize liquor

Like a fine wine, the fight over liquor privatization in Pennsylvania has gotten better with age.

And while it took a step toward fruition Thursday with passage in the House, it is still largely bottled up.

“For the Senate, pensions are our number one priority,” said Jennifer Kocher, spokeswoman for Senate Republicans.

The booze bill passed the house last session and died on the vine in the Senate. The Upper Chamber is still showing no sense of urgency on it while offering the obligatory “we’ll look at whatever the house sends over.”

“We want to take our time with it; we want to be able to thoroughly vet it,” Kocher said. “There are concerns on both sides of the issue. We want to make sure we’ve looked at all of the angles and everything that’s in it.”

It is an interesting dichotomy within the GOP ranks. Conservatives in the House are gung-ho and full-steam-ahead. It’s apparently a no-brainer to them.

Conservatives in the Senate are much more reticent and cautious. It’s obviously not such a no-brainer to them.

Senator Richard Alloway is a perfect case-in-point. He considers himself a conservative Republican, but he worries about mom-and-pop beer distributors who could get hurt in the privatization push. He knows lots of his constituents suggest it should be an easy vote.

“They just think we should wholesale, with a government pen, change all the rules that these business people, these families, have been playing by for 80 years,” Alloway said. “I’m not gonna do that. I don’t care what anyone says; to me, that’s not fair. You say, ‘oh, I’m a pro-business Republican.’  Which business? If you’re for big business, you’re not for small business.”

There is clearly complexity to HB 466 and it has lots of moving parts.

The bill has an uncertain future in the Senate.

It is forcefully opposed by Governor Wolf, who was asked about the bill several times this week and repeatedly said this: “If it reaches my desk in its present form, I will veto it.”

So where does that leave it?

Perhaps with a form of modernization, which Wolf does support.

“The consumers clearly want more choice,” said Auditor General Eugene DePasquale (D). “But we have to figure out a way to do that in a fiscally responsible way for the state.”

DePasquale is a former lawmaker who was strolling in the Capitol Friday. Asked his opinion, Depasquale sees House passage of privatization as a bargaining chip on the table in coming negotiations with the governor.

“I’d be surprised if it isn’t all part of the larger budget process,” DePasquale said.

Governor Wolf gives his inaugural budget address Tuesday morning. His spokesman confirmed that Wolf’s liquor priorities will be mentioned.

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