Friday, January 1, 2016

Liquor Privatization's Enemy #1: Senator Charles McIlhinney

Three times in three years a reasonably effective liquor privatization bill passed the PA House (it also came close in 2014, but got sidetracked as GOP legislators scurried to distance themselves from Governor Corbett's sinking reelection ship). That's something that never happened before in the 80-odd years since the PLCB was established, despite decades of polls that consistently showed that was what Pennsylvanians wanted. But thanks to the solid support and unfailing energy of Representative Mike Turzai, the House Majority Leader and now Speaker, it finally happened, and it was historic.

One of those bills also passed the Senate, but it was a sacrificial lamb, vetoed by Governor Tom "I Love Me Some PLCB" Wolf. But the other two were shot down in the Senate, practically single-handedly, by Senator Charles "Chuck" McIlhinney, the Republican who represents the 10th District in northern Bucks County...curiously, the same district that gave us Joe "Water Heater" Conti, better known to readers of the blog as Joe Da CEO, the former "CEO" of the PLCB who resigned three years ago while under investigation for ethics issues (an investigation that may still be going on under the eye of a federal grand jury). There must be something innately pro-PLCB about that area.

The first time the privatization bill passed the House, in 2013, McIlhinney held a press conference as soon as it happened -- in mid-March -- and announced that the Law & Justice Committee (his committee; he was and still is the majority chairman) would be holding hearings on liquor privatization. He had three months, and the hearings -- stacked with anti-privatization speakers, a circus of shouting and intimidation -- were shoved into the last part of that, after which McIlhinney held everything up on his committee until he presented his version of the bill.

Then I simply took the House language and burned it. With fire.
In a legislative move known as "gut and replace," McIlhinney replaced the House's bill in its entirety with his own scheme, a mishmash of State Store clerks' union-proposed "modernization" measures (that are blatantly anti-consumer), beer distributor pipe dreams, and his own plan for selling wine by the bottle (but only four bottles at a time) at taverns and restaurants, a plan no one asked for and no one wanted. The committee got that a week before the session was over. It never even came to a vote.

The second time, in 2015, the House passed another privatization bill. Knowing that Governor Tom "Look For The Union Label" Wolf would veto a solid liquor privatization bill in the first pass -- he'd said so, promised it -- McIlhinney waved it through, the Senate passed it, and sure enough: Wolf vetoed it, along with the proposed budget.

And now? We still have no budget, but McIlhinney's still at work. The House passed another privatization bill in December, part of their negotiation strategy with the Governor, and this time, McIlhinney went to work on it...making it look a LOT like the bill he shoved out in 2013, complete with no change to the state wholesale monopoly, nebulous talk about selling wine at grocery stores that had bought an R-license and were selling beer, and plenty of anti-consumer "modernization" language (including "flexible pricing," which essentially gives the PLCB the green light to raise prices to cover their ballooning operating expenses). It's what we've been calling The Big Step Sideways. It's not anything the House was going to pass when it comes back for reconciliation, and he knew it, and now liquor privatization has apparently been dropped from the negotiations. Chances are slim that it will come up this year; an election year. (Which is foolish: no legislator is going to lose their seat over how they vote on liquor privatization.)

Go ahead. Ask me "Why?" again. I love that.
McIlhinney, you've done it again. Which leads us to ask...why? As in Why does McIlhinney so doggedly and effectively thwart privatization efforts? He's a Republican, isn't he? Aren't they supposedly the party of business, of smaller government? Well...maybe. But there's pro-business, and then there's pro particular businesses; like this. And then there's the personal politics of the whole thing, like this. (It's worth noting that some pundits tag the beer magnate noted in those links, Pasquale "Pat" Deon," as the reason we didn't see a privatization bill pass the House in 2012). And then there's this winking tidbit about Pennsylvania politics: Unions buy Democrats; they rent Republicans.

But another why is this one: Why does the state Republican party continue to put up with McIlhinney's shenanigans on this issue, and indeed, why is he in the one spot, the chairmanship of Law & Justice, where he can effectively, single-handedly, block privatization? Is it true what the unions have consistently said, what the Democrats have consistently said? That the state GOP doesn't really want privatization, that it's too good an issue to run on, to get donations with, and to pass it would kill that cash source? The thing is, for that to be true, it would all hinge on...Chuck McIlhinney.

1 comment:

Sam Komlenic said...

Welcome back, indeed! Glad to know that this blog is yours again, Lew. Happy New Year to all!