Thursday, June 20, 2013

Details...Why So Late, Senator?

In the wake of yesterday's endorsement of SB100 (such as it is; I'm just a blogger, fergodssake), I have to bring up this: why did it take so stinking long?

Here we are, shoved up against the legislative deadline, with only 10 days to get this bill out of committee (which is apparently achieved but not voted), passed in the Senate (and we've already been told that the votes are not in place yet), reconciled in the House (where Rep. Turzai is not happy with the loss of wholesale privatization, and who would be?), and then signed by the Governor (which should be a slamdunk; he's not going to veto a privatization bill, and I assume he's going to have input before it gets to his desk). Now, the Gov has already said he was prepared to stick around for as long as it takes to get a budget passed, so the session may not actually be OVER on July 1...but let's stick to the official calendar for now. Why did it take so long?

I can tell you in one word: McIlhinney. Senator Charles T. "Chuck" McIlhinney is the majority chair of the Senate Law & Justice Committee, the committee that oversees the PLCB in the Senate, and he got House Bill 790, the liquor privatization bill, way back in mid-March...when he promptly -- promptly -- announced that he was going to hold hearings on the bill. Hearings that the House Republicans were excoriated for not the Democrats and the union, who knew that hearings would delay, delay, delay, and do nothing to change ANY Democratic votes -- their party discipline on this has been impressive, stoked by the hopes of a Corbett defeat and continuing union-donated campaign cash -- and likely not change any Republican votes. 

Why not? Let's face it: this issue has been around for 40 years. If you're a Pennsylvania legislator and you don't know about this issue and have an opinion, you're incompetent and should be voted out. The hearings would be an opportunity for two things: delay and bloviating. McIlhinney supplied the delay -- spreading the hearings out over six weeks -- and the Democrats, led by Senator Jim Ferlo and the UFCW's jeering yellow-shirted shlock troops, supplied the bloviation, which McIlhinney was all too ready to allow.

Meanwhile, the hearings were blatantly stacked. The first hearing was all "beware the harms of alcohol" people, who could be guaranteed to be against any kind of liberalization of alcohol policy, regardless of facts. Well, okay, we thought, that's out of the way

But then the second hearing was almost as bad! Representatives from Wegmans and Redner's supermarkets appeared to ask for beer in the markets (the guy from Redner's made an excellent point that the cafe requirement was slanted against smaller stores), the main desire of the citizens who only want normalcy (don't hold your breath: you ain't getting it). But after Senator Williams asked them about their "diversity plan" (sure, be good to have, but what's it got to do with the issue? And how many beer distributors have one?) and McIlhinney had brushed them aside (essentially saying, yeah, that's what you'd like, but that's not how it's going to be), it was the Pro-PLCB Express again, with the MBDA saying 'You will utterly destroy 1,400 small family businesses if you don't leave things exactly the way they are!' (paraphrasing) and the president of Philly-based Charles Jacquin Liquor Co., who said "We love the PLCB!" (actual quote, and of course he does: they sell most of their bargain-style booze here and never have to spend a dime on sales because the PLCB carries all of it at cheap prices. A marriage made in Purgatory (though mind you, I don't mind a dose of Rock 'n' Rye occasionally in the winter...)), the tavern owners (who essentially said the same thing the MBDA did: don't rock the boat, we're making good money here), and a Pennsylvania winery that's managed to get in the State Stores guessed it, doesn't want to rock the boat.

The third hearing lost control. The beer wholesalers got a chance to plea for no boat-rocking. There was a moment of opposition, beautifully presented by the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers and DISCUS, and they held their ground well against Senator Ferlo and his minions. But then we got three hours of straight "The PLCB is the most amazing thing since fire!" from direct stakeholders like the unions, one of the three companies that gets paid to haul the PLCB's wholesale business (not the one that's owned by Attorney General Kane's husband, oddly enough...), and the PLCB themselves (classic moment: McIlhinney says to them, the guy from DISCUS says you can't handle wholesale for 14,000 businesses (when everyone knows they can barely handle wholesale for their own 596 stores). Can you? Oh, you bet, says the PLCB guy, with a straight face. Wonder what the tavern owners had to say about that?).

Then the Lieutenant-Governor finally gets to speak, with almost no time left, and Ferlo heaps derision on him, and the State Police commissioner, while the yellow-shirted union reps cheered, booed, and cackled. It was, as veteran political reporter Brad Bumsted put it, "unlike any committee hearing I've seen in more than three decades." And in case you think I'm exaggerating about Ferlo and the union, he also said: "Cawley and his panel, including Col. Frank Noonan, commissioner of the state police, and Secretary of Health Michael Wolf, were verbally thrashed by Sen. Jim Ferlo" and "[the state store clerks] cheered wildly for Ferlo and, not surprisingly, hooted and jeered at Cawley."He then described McIlhinney's belated call for order as "laughable."

It was a terribly cynical exercise, but do you know what the worst thing was? Not one single consumer was heard from. Not one of the people who actually have to deal with this system. The Legislature didn't want to hear from the civilians, the citizens...the voters. Why start now? They haven't wanted to hear what we've had to say about the State Stores for over 40 years!

If McIlhinney was going to schedule such a circus, a pro-PLCB parade, he could have done it in a week. All these people gave what are stock speeches; the slavishly pro-labor academic Dr. Ron Zullo delivered essentially the same speech he did at last year's hearing. There's no excuse for taking six weeks...unless you wanted to delay a vote, to jam this up against the deadline so hard that it didn't really matter what you came out with, it would be too late to get it through.

Don't believe me? Then tell me why, if the last non-meaningful hearing was over two weeks ago, McIlhinney only announced his "plan" on Tuesday...and still has not actually released a bill for examination? More delay. We read today that his committee won't be considering the bill till next week. The last week of the session.

Because of McIlhinney's delaying tactics, we now have this lump of a bill. I'll support it, and urge its passage, because it's all we have time for. We won't be able to get a good law, because the Senator successfully wasted the time he had. 

Would HB790 have passed the Senate? Probably not. And McIlhinney's deliberate delays ensured that we would get this mishmosh instead. But if we don't pass this, it's going to be ten years till we get another chance to get this ludicrous relic off our backs. Thanks, Senator. I sure do hope the Republican Party remembers what you did to them when election time comes around.


Anonymous said...

Lew's article here is spot on!!!

Anonymous said...

I also hope folks aren't single-issue voters. Incredible to me that state Republicans are correct on this one. Well, their position - like that of McIlhenney - has nothing to do with policy and everything to do with the patronage of who that policy benefits. But you'd have a more persuasive argument on a political level if you could convince the Dems that there actually are single-issue voters (aside from the state employees, for instance) that would alter their votes over this issue.

-Jeff Harner (fellow Fummer)

Lew Bryson said...

I wish I didn't agree with you that the Republicans are doing this for those it benefits...actually, I don't, completely, because they've been at it for too long and the public support for it has been there for so long. But the Dems are not going to be convinced by anything but money and votes, and both come AFTER they vote, so...?