Pennsylvania’s Conundum

Pennsylvania has a Democrat Governor and a Republican controlled legislature. The State is largely conservative with two progressive islands centered in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Elections are usually close indicating a voter balance, not a geographical balance. A political conundrum is playing out now but it is uncertain whether Pennsylvania will take a step forward or slip further to the rear.

At issue is the pledge Governor Tom Wolf made during his 2014 campaign. Wolf said he would tax the shale gas producers and use the proceeds for education. Pennsylvania has a broken formula for funding public schools. In general, the GOP is against any further State aid because the aid would mean an increase in taxes.

The larger cities (Pittsburgh and Philadelphia) desperately need more funding and respond well to politicians who promise it. Wolf promised aid and now he’s trying to deliver.

The GOP legislature leader has offered a compromise. He would consider new taxes if Wolf would support privatization of the State Liquor store system. The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board is the largest purchaser of wine, beer, and liquor in the entire United States. The system offers Pennsylvanians rude and disinterested service with shoddy stock levels and high prices. Just what one would expect from a government controlled bureaucracy.

So what could be the resistance to such a trade, school support for private liquor stores?

The Pennsylvania liquor stores employ a lot of people and those people vote. There is also the issue of who would get the privatized stores once they were offered to the public (the underlying issue being which party would benefit). A second issue is who would inherent the pension and severance responsibility if the stores were privatized. Both of these problems are solvable.

The high price of Pennsylvania purchased booz is a matter of taxes primarily. In any move to privatize, the State will have to think this one through. New Jersey and New York have comparable tax levels but Delaware and Maryland are lower. A private system should bring better service to Pennsylvanians and competition should improve price and selections, Sounds like a winner to me.

My guess is that this offer of “school aid” for “liquor privatization” will slowly die and in the end the State will look the other way with respect to public school funding.

For those who don’t drink or live near the State boarders, who cares? For those who live in Pittsburgh or Philadelphia, there are always private or charter schools, so who cares here too. Hmmm.

Tell me again what a “bi-partisan” solution looks like?

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