Much Awaits PA Legislators – Privatization of State Liquor System, School Vouchers, Redistricting and Marcellus Shale drilling policy

There is much awaiting lawmakers when they return to Harrisburg tomorrow. Several major areas require legislator’s attention before they depart for the winter holidays in three weeks – privatizing the state liquor system, school voucher program, proposed redistricting and natural gas drilling policy of Marcellus shale.

Since taking office last January, Gov. Corbett has been unwavering on certain agenda items, including the privatization of the state liquor system and pushing a school voucher program.  Much has been discussed on these topics over the past 11 months and Corbett is seeking resolution by the close of 2011.

Speaking of the state liquor system, did you see that the PA Liquor Control Board has changed the rule on shipping alcohol?  Shipping wine or liquor to PA residents was previously prohibited, but the LCB quietly changed the rule last week.  Just in time for the holidays, residents can order from LCB’s online Fine Wine & Good Spirits store for home delivery.

This is a service that wine fans in the rest of the country take for granted but now is available to Pennsylvanians. However, the UPS delivery is pricey, $14 for up to 3 bottles, then $1 for each additional bottle delivered.

Initially I was excited about the change, until I realized that the new shipping rule was only applicable if you were purchasing wine from the LCB — buying from out-of-state wineries is still off-limits!

We know that Corbett wants the state out of the liquor business.  A private firm reporting to Corbett has released a Public Finance Management Report that estimates a return of up to $1.6 billion for privatizing the state liquor system.  So why bother rolling out an alcohol delivery program on the eve of this vote?

Another important agenda item for Corbett since taking office is the school voucher program. Corbett has been transparent in his push for a voucher system, which would permit money to go to parochial and private schools.  One of the foundations of this country is the plan for children from all backgrounds to go to school together but if Corbett gets his way, a legislative vote may change public school education in Pennsylvania.

Although the state constitution prohibits using public money to send children to private schools, Corbett and other advocates of school vouchers, think they have a way around that legal matter.  Instead of giving the money directly to private schools, they will give the money to parents who in turn give money to schools.

Is the voucher plan a new twist on constitutional law – give the money to parents to give to the schools will magically transform the money so it’s no longer taxpayer money?

Personally, I am opposed to Corbett sidestepping the constitution and continue to be opposed to taxpayer dollars funding nonpublic education.  Funneling taxpayer dollars through parents to private schools  ultimately weakens the public education system.  If there are problems with specific school districts, then I believe that the state has a responsibility to ‘fix’ the school district.  And giving some parents money to leave their failing school districts is not the answer nor does it fix the school’s problems for those students that remain.  Moving the best students out of a failing school further weakens failing schools.

Besides legislative discussion on liquor privatization and school vouchers, lawmakers have to approve the state and congressional redistricting maps by the end of the year.  This week closed the 30-day public comment period on the proposed redistricting and now the matter is in the hands of the legislators.

Redistricting is a powerful tool for elected officials to protect their own and undermine opponents and I have previously stated that sweeping nonpartisan redistricting reform is unlikely. However, I failed to mention that former State Rep Paul Drucker (D-157) introduced legislation (H.B. 2005) to reform Pennsylvania’s redistricting process in 2009.  In describing his redistricting reform House Bill 2005 in a November 2009 press release, Drucker stated,

My legislation would establish a nine-person committee made up of the top eight legislative leaders in the House and Senate, or their designees, plus a chairman appointed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. 

Under the bill, the chairman would have to be a registered voter in Pennsylvania for at least two years, could not hold a federal, state or local office, and not have held a position within a political party in the previous 10 years. The commission would meet in public and be held to specific rules designed to avoid districts drawn for political reasons. Any plan created by the commission would need to be approved by six of the nine members before moving to the full legislature for final approval.

Drucker’s redistricting reform bill would have increased the commission size from five to nine; established a PA Supreme Court appointed chair and created transparency of the redistricting process with public meetings!  Unfortunately, Drucker’s redistricting reform bill did not get out of the House State Government Committee.  If you are interested, here is link to House Bill 2005.

Another major issue for Harrisburg legislators to discuss in the next 3 weeks is the state policy on natural gas drilling in the Marcellus shale.  The state House and state Senate have passed Marcellus shale bills that include per-well impact fee and a series of new environmental regulations but differences between the bills needs to be worked out.

Differences between the two proposals will need to be reconciled over the next few weeks if lawmakers are going to get a bill to the governor’s desk before they leave in mid-December.

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  1. There are at least three bills out there that would allow direct shipping from out of state wineries. Unfortunatly those that would like to privatize are against anything that would lower the the value of the licenses for their cronies.

  2. The LCB is one of the few profit-making ventures in Pennsylvania, so why sell? I have a hard time believing that the sale of the licenses is worth $1.6 billion.

    JohnRz, couldn’t we keep the LCB under state control but allow for shipping to PA residents from out-of-state.

    1. Personally, i dont think the government should own ANY profit making ventures in Pennsylvania. Thats not what the gubbamint is for.

  3. I still dont understand why Pennsylvania has state wine and spirits stores. Some years ago I was at a dinner surrounded by SE Pa folks and i groused slightly about the prices and selections at my local Pa state store. There was a unanimous chorus from around the table touting the distributor in Delaware that sells so much to Pa residents — at prices 25% lower, better selection and no sales tax. The consensus was, if you live within hailing distance of Delaware, only a fool would purchase wine or spirits in Pennsylvania. Thanks to the legislature.

    1. Agree MA — until you get stopped coming over the state line with more than a bottle or two….so never go to Delaware JUST to buy liquor….
      And the Costco just over the line has a major alcohol department….worth the trip to save the sales tax and get discounts. But here’s the deal — PA is starting to make noise about mandatory “use tax” for anything bought online or out of state — with random audits etc. Does anyone here know anything about how realistic that is?

      Here is link to the state code on use tax:
      http://www.pacode.com/secure/data/061/chapter31/s31.7.html
      PA is adding a line to personal income taxes this year to include use tax due. Note that you owe it whether or not you declare it…?
      Which is WHY PA should get out of the liquor business….nothing run by the government is efficient by the nature of it.

      Article today about state’s new enforcement for online purchasing…
      http://www.poconorecord.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20111205/NEWS90/112050325/-1/NEWSMAP

      1. There was a great article in the Inquirer a couple years ago about people buying alcohol in Del and bringing it into Pa. Its illegal. But the article said in the preceding 10 years only 1 car had been cited. And they interviewed a Pa state trooper who said, in essence, that the state police have real work to do (e.g. speeding, DUI) and dont concern thmeselves with being an enforcement arm of the state’s tax policy.

        Every state has use tax (if they have a sales tax) for out of state purchases. For big items, the tax is collected at time of registration (cars, boats, planes). But for little items its damn near impossible to enforce. How is the government to know where you bought your TV unless they trail you from Delaware or else follow the UPS truck from Amazon . . . its all dependent on voluntary compliance. I always pay the use tax due. yeah, really i do. and i never speed on the turnpike.

        you hit the nail on the head: nothing run by the government is efficient by the nature of it. Let there be competition in the spirits and wine markets, and go ahead and tax it. Prices will come down, people wont head to Delaware to avoid the tax only, or not as many.

  4. The LCB made the change because they are trying to stave off their imminent demise should the privatization legislation pass…another case of entrenched interests protecting their own.

    The simple fact is, the state shouldn’t be in this business and this half-way step at making the liquor system a little better shows how little the LCB actually gets it.

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