Liquor Privatization, Déjà vu all over again?

The stories are countless, a new resident to Pennsylvania goes grocery shopping for the first time and is astounded when they can’t find either the beer or wine aisles. Or you are amazed when you go to the Food Lion in North Carolina to stock up for your beach vacation and lo and behold you can buy not only a case of beer but a bottle of wine.

Since the repeal of Prohibition way back in 1933 the Commonwealth has constructed a set of laws and regulations so arcane and unintelligible that you would need to look even further back in history to the rules of court in ancient Byzantium for guidance.

Now I am old enough to remember when I went to the “State Store” and I had to place my order to a clerk who then disappeared into the back and sometimes actually came back with something resembling what I desired.  Now of course we have “Wine and Spirits” shops where I can actually see and touch what I am ordering.  But no beer!

Change comes at a glacial pace.  Governors Thornburg, Ridge and Corbett tried with nothing to show for their efforts.

Under Governor Corbett the latest attempt was made to change the system, and then Majority Leader Mike Turzai actually defied history and passed his bill through the State House.  It died an unseemly death in the State Senate. With the defeat of Corbett it seemed as if the issue was dead, or at least dormant.

But credit, now Speaker Mike Turzai, who has pledged to get Pennsylvania out of the liquor business once and for all.  As part of any negotiation on revenue increases in this year’s budget Turzai has made it a condition that liquor privatization must be passed and signed by Governor Wolf. A new privatization bill by Turzai is waiting to be launched any day now.

How will this play out? Will the Senate finally pass Turzai’s bill? Will Governor Tom Wolf sign it? Stay tuned during the next six months.

by Nello Giorgetti

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Governor Corbett approves budget for Pennsylvania’s 2014-2015 fiscal year

On July 10, 2014, Governor Corbett approved the budget for Pennsylvania’s 2014-2015 fiscal year after announcing that he had decided to line item veto certain funding for the state legislature. The budget provides for $29.1 billion in state spending for this new fiscal year. Budget highlights include:

  • No increases in broad-based state taxes (e.g., Personal Income Tax, Sales and Use Tax).
  • No severance tax on the extraction and production of natural gas in the Marcellus Shale.
  • The continuation of economic development tax credits, including the Film Production Tax Credit.
  • The continued phase out of the Capital Stock and Franchise Tax.
  • $10.5 billion for K-12 education.
  • A $20 million increase in special education.
  • A $10 million increase for PlanCon, a process whereby a school district seeks reimbursement from state government for a major construction project undertaken by the school district.
  • $327.69 million in funding for early childhood education, including a $10 million increase for Pre-K Counts.
  • A $3.5 million increase in funding for community colleges.
  • $5 million for the newly established Ready-to-Succeed Scholarship, which provides merit-based scholarships to students who demonstrate academic achievement and come from families with household income of less than $110,000.
  • $100 million for the newly created Ready-to-Learn Block Grants to support academic achievement with flexible uses that include the following: uses allowable under the Accountability Block Grant; establishing, expanding, and maintaining kindergarten and Pre-K programs; hybrid learning; and curriculum alignment.
  • Requirement that the Environmental Quality Board regulations differentiate between conventional oil and gas wells and unconventional gas wells.
  • Elimination of the state’s pension reimbursement payments to charter and cyber charter schools.
  • No public pension reform. However, pension reform may be taken up by the state legislature in the fall.
  • No liquor store privatization or modernization.