Booze Battle

Here we go again. Another Republican Guv, another attempt to end the Prohibition-era state store system.

After past Guvs Thornburgh and Ridge failed to get rid of statewide control of the sale of booze, current Guv Corbett wants to try again, and the House GOP leader, Mike Turzai of Pittsburgh, yesterday introduced a bill to do just that.

I'm not sure this is the top priority of the citizens of the state, but Turzai says it will be "at the top of the agenda" with the Legislature returns from summer break in September.

He wants to double liquor outlets to 1,250 as part of plan to get the state out of the business, make a big, up to $2 billion, score on selling licenses and give, he says, consumers better access and prices.

The state Chamber of Business & Industry immediatetly endorsed the plan. Democrats immediately condemned it.

"Not an essential function of government," says the chamber. Better off in the private sector.

"Part of an all-out attack on the middle class," says Democratic House Leader Frank Dermody of Pittsburgh, who argues the plan would put 5,000 people out of work.

The issues are always the same. Get the state out of the business of booze control (only one other state, Utah, controls it to the extent we do) or protect union jobs and better battle underage drinking and drunk-driving.

The politics are always the same. Free-market Republicans versus union-supporting Democrats and rural lawmakers of both parties who don't want rivers of booze flowing in their socially conservative districts.

But the change has never had a better chance of happening. Republicans control both the House & Senate. The Guv's for it. Whatever the state's take on the sale of licenses would be a boon. And the clear GOP agenda is to privatize as much of government as possible: booze, education, etc.

Problem is, unless you work in a state store or are in a position to buy a license, you probably wish lawmakers had a different "top of the agenda" item. Like maybe a jobs bill. Or a tax-reform bill. Or a close-corporate-loopholes bill. Or a cut-the-size-of-the-legislature bill.

But no. What we've got is a booze bill. Grrr.