Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Liquor Legislation's Politics Can Make Your Head Spin

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Liquor Legislation's Politics Can Make Your Head Spin

Article excerpt

A theory wafting through Harrisburg has it that the Republican- dominated Senate finally passed a liquor privatization bill only because the senators knew Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf would veto it.

Democrats are advancing this belief, natch. A letter to the editor from Rep. Paul Costa, D-Wilkins, has gotten some legs on social media.

It seems too odd, even by the standards of America's Largest Full-Time State Legislature, but it has a certain Machiavellian logic to it.

Begin with the fact that until this year, the Republicans had a governor eager to approve liquor privatization. Gov. Tom Corbett was primed to sign the bill and pop the corks. But as much as current House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Marshall, worked at this, his clout in the House never translated to the Senate. There the House bill was loaded up with enough amendments to make it wobble like a sot on a bender.

The bill essentially passed out cold in the upper chamber in the summer of 2013. Yet now it passes 27-22. Why?

Steve Miskin, spokesman for House Republicans, said it's because the Senate has a different makeup. Three House Republicans have moved to the Senate.

That makes a certain amount of sense - until you look at the votes. Yes, Sen. Ryan Aument, R-Lancaster, voted to approve liquor privatization, just as he had as a House member in 2013. But colleagues Michele Brooks, R-Mercer, and Mario Scavello, R-Monroe, cast "no" votes as senators, reversing their "yes" votes for privatization as House members in 2013.

If new blood isn't the reason for passage, what is?

Mr. Costa believes Senate Republicans wanted to show Mr. Turzai, once and for all, that his version of liquor privatization couldn't get past the Democratic governor's veto. Sen. Chuck McIlhinney, R- Bucks, who chairs the Senate Law and Justice Committee, had been criticized by proponents of liquor privatization in 2013 for being lukewarm on the issue.

Now Mr. McIlhinney is able to make the requisite slam of Gov. Wolf for "a serious blow to the ongoing efforts to privatize the sale of wine and liquor," even as he gets behind reforms more to the Democrats' liking. …

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