Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Here We Go Again (Except We Haven't Finished the First Time Yet)

Governor Tom "Hack In Training" Wolf presented his new budget proposal yesterday, in the unique position of not having his budget from last year passed yet. That's right; although parts of the budget have passed, arguably the most important parts — education funding and the tax increases Wolf sought to pay for such increases (and for what he said were structural deficits in Pennsylvania's ongoing budget) — have not. The budget for last year is incomplete.

Angry Tough Talking Governor Tom!
(I know, I know, this point, what's the difference?)
Why is this? Wolf, in a questionable display of hopping up and down and spewing campaign-level bile, has blamed it all on the majority party in the General Assembly, Republicans who failed to "compromise." The Republican leaders in the legislature, who don't actually appear to be leading their caucus at all, blame it all on Wolf, who they say failed to "compromise." Both of them seem to think "compromise" means "shut up and do it my way." (Meanwhile, the Democrats in the GA seem to have gotten off scot-free in this, largely because they are irrelevant except when it comes to sustaining Wolf's veto.)

This is an appalling embarrassment, but that's not the problem we need to talk about here. Here we need to talk about liquor normalization. That's the whole point of this blog, after all. So let's figure the odds that we'll get liquor privatization this year. I'm not a pollster, so don't expect accuracy...ha ha ha, jokes like that crack me up!

Cons: First, and always, there will be concerted, well-organized and well-funded opposition from the unions involved. That includes all the money and staffing they contributed to the Wolf campaign, and they expect payback; they've been getting it so far with plenty of hardheaded stonewalling on liquor privatization, and one outright veto. There's a limit to everything, though, and we may find the union's limits this time around. As an angry union guy once told me, we only have to win once. They have to win every time.

Second, the main problem is compromise. Privatization isn't privatization as long as there is a state-owned monopoly on retail or wholesale wine and liquor sales. There are several ways the Legislature might "compromise" on this. The worst would be one of the "modernization" plans. This would, as we've explained many times, be worse than leaving things as they are now, because the keystone of "modernization" is the innocuous-sounding "flexible pricing," which is free rein to raise prices any time they want. That would be a consumer disaster. They could allow wine sales in supermarkets, much like beer sales are today, but that would require jiggering the current law to such an extent that you have to ask: wouldn't it be simpler to just fix this? Then there's the possibility of privatizing retail but not wholesale, or wine sales but not liquor, or some combination of the two. The first means some group of bureaucrats in Harrisburg still decides what booze we're allowed to buy; the second means that liquor buyers are second-class citizens.

Third, it's an election year, and the legislators are going to be skittish. They're going to try real hard to get through to November without doing anything major. Which is, of course, exactly what they've done for the past year. I think it would be a good idea to press the Legislature to present the Governor with a finished budget ahead of time, say in early June, and not waste a bunch of time in the Spring, like the always do. But the timing of an election year makes privatization less likely...even though the chances that a vote on privatization will not have much effect on any legislator's reelection.

Pros: There's still the possibility of a Grand Bargain, a higher-level compromise where Wolf gets what he wants, and the Republicans get pension reform and liquor privatization. Unfortunately, what Wolf wants, mainly, is tax increases, and that's going to be a hard, hard an election year.

Anything else? Yes, increasing pressure from the public. They've learned a lot about the issues in the past year, and expectations are high. They'll put the pressure on; our job is to help. We'll keep finding the stupidest things the PLCB does and stands for, and feed you the ammunition you need to get the job done.

Budget? Does it really matter what Wolf wants? The important question is what he's prepared to give to get it. Cross your fingers.


Anonymous said...

Please explain to me: why do unions care if alcohol is private or not? Private supermarket chains are unionized.

Lew Bryson said...

They'd rather have a secure post, I suspect, and no one likes being put out of a job and having to find a new one. The cynic in me also says that they would rather have public sector jobs than private ones; the bosses are easier to manipulate.

Anonymous said...

Easier to manipulate why?

Lew Bryson said...

Your boss is the Legislature and the Governor. You manipulate them by making campaign donations, which make them say stupid things like 'competition causes higher prices.' And then they veto privatization bills.

Anonymous said...

Public sector union jobs are far more secure and profitable than private sector union jobs. Wendell has lost many privates sector grocery store jobs in SE PA so he wants the state to hold on to the liquor stores.

Anonymous said...

Why is an article bashing Gov. Wolf featured with a picture of Tom Corporate?

Lew Bryson said...

Because at this point they're both:

1. Getting nothing done on liquor privatization;
2. Failing to get along with the Legislature;
3. Talking tough to no apparent end;
4. Named Tom, and;
5. Looking like one-termers.

The humor of the situation appealed to me. Everyone thought Wolf would be a change from Corbett, and he was: things got worse.