Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Booze Wars, continued...

The Booze Wars, continued...


A new ad has hit the airwaves in Bucks County against Republican Sen. Chuck McIlhinney, who has become the new target for those pushing to privatize the sale of wine and hard liquor in Pennsylvania.

The Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania (CAP), a non-profit group that advocates for limited government, is spending roughly $5,000 to air an ad on Fox in McIlhinney's Bucks County district for the next week, accusing him of "siding with union bosses who want to keep taxpayers footing the bill for Pennsylvania's broken government-run liquor store system."

The ad hits just days before the Senate committee that McIlhinney heads launches a series of hearings on a bill that recently passed the House of Representatives - and that is backed by Gov. Corbett -- that calls for opening up the wine and hard liquor market to private entrepreneurs and, eventually, shuttering the State Stores.

It is the newest salvo in what will surely evolve into an all-out battle as liquor privatization's fate is decided over the next few months in the Capitol. The ball is now in the Senate's court, where a number of Republicans who control the chamber - McIlhinney among them - have strongly signaled they favor modernizing the current state-run system to full-scale privatization.

For his part, McIlhinney said in an interview Wednesday that he hadn't yet seen the ad, but called it "typical politics." He maintained the ad was funded by big corporate retailers who want liquor privatization to pass swiftly, and with as little discussion and debate as possible.

"We don’t pass bills under threat," said McIlhinney. "We hold hearings. We ask questions. We do our due diligence."

McIlhinney said he was also aggravated by how the governor, who has never called him to talk  about privatization, has been publicly pushing for the Senate to act swiftly and pass the House bill.

"He's demanding I back the House plan without any discussion or hearings," the Republican senator said. "I don’t undertstand that. He’s the governor and he can do what he wants, but I’m also a senator who has to answer to constituents."

Leo Knepper, CAP's executive director, said his group is not funded by "big box retailers," let alone those with an interest in privatization. He said CAP is running the ad to drive home a point made in poll after poll: that the majority of Pennsylvanians want state government out of the business of selling alcohol.

It won't be an easy task for him or other privatization advocates. Several governors have tried over the last three decades to privatize the state Liquor Control Board, but have been thwarted by unions, Democrats, and Republicans who believe liquor sales should be strictly regulated.

The first of three hearings in McIlhinney's Law and Justice Committee is scheduled for Tuesday of next week, and McIlhinney said Wednesday he hopes to have a bill completed by early June.

"But I won't be rushed," the senator said. "To say we shouldn’t take the time to look at the issue closely is really not realistic. It’s naïve really."

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Commonwealth Confidential gives you regularly updated coverage of the state legislature, the governor and the workings of the state bureaucracy. It is written by Angela Couloumbis in the Inquirer's Harrisburg bureau, based in the statehouse, and by the newspaper's far-flung campaign reporters.

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