Mike and I have discussed before Governor Tom Corbett’s desire to privatize the Pennsylvania state-controlled system of alcohol sales and distribution. Whether you support the idea of reform to the state-run system as it now stands or support complete privatization of the system, when money and power is in play, politics is going to get ugly.
In April of this year Senator Chuck McIhinney’s Senate Law and Justice Committee was given House bill (HB 790) that contained most of the Governor’s plan to privatize Pennsylvania’s liquor business. The House bill had passed a chamber vote by a narrow margin of 105 to 90.
After two months the House bill hadn’t moved from committee during which time Senator Chuck McIhinney was busy holding hearings on the measure. These hearings gave voice to those in opposition to the bill while proponents were denied an opportunity to speak in support the bill.
In the middle of last month the Senator released his own version of the bill (SB 100) and a severely reworked version of HB 790, which was authored by House Majority Leader Mike Turzai. McIlhinney’s plan intended to keep the existing state store system. It would keep the Liquor Control Board as is and keep the state as the purchaser and distributor of alcohol. The only modification to the current system would increase the power of beer distributors and only certain grocery stores by allowing them to sell wine and liquor as well as beer. Currently Pennsylvania distributors are only allowed to sell beer by case. For quantities less than a case consumers must purchase six-packs at bars or restaurants.
This would seem close to politics as normal until MediaTrackers.org looked into recent campaign contributions to the McIhinney’s campaign. It would appear that opponents to privatization of the system have donated in excess of $43,000 to McIhinney’s campaign committee. These donors include beer distributors and state liquor store employee unions. The largest contribution was $5,000 from Jeff Reeder of Ace Distributing in Mercersburg.
Whether you agree with the privatization or not the concern of a monetary quid-pro-quo should be alarming to anyone who would champion democracy. It isn’t that Senator McIlhinney shouldn’t be allowed to vote the way he wants on an issue but delaying a vote on HB 790 by holding biased hearing without equal voice lending voice to real debate is galling. It is difficult not to view these donations leading to questionable use (or abuse) of power by a state official as not having the appearance of corruption.
This ultimately helped kill the push for privatization on Sunday which appeared linked to the passage of a $2.5-billion state transportation and infrastructure bill which also died Sunday night.
While I don’t believe the issue of privatization is a simple cut and dry no brainer I would like to see the passage or failure of a bill die or succeed solely on the merits of the issue, not through political trickery. Personal politics aside I would have wanted to see Governor Corbett’s bill fail on its lack of merit alone.
Whether you triumph the failure of this bill as a victory for unions/common decency or decry its death as an inability to wrench power from the hands of a despotic government it is always easier to swallow political sausage without seeing how it is made.
Everyone should be vigilant that their representatives are listening to their concerns and not to what fills their re-election war chest. After all Senator McIlhinney isn’t up for re-election until November 2014.