No Mere Luxury: Liquor Privatization Is About Much More

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Concern is rising in the General Assembly, particularly among Democrats, that House Republicans may be linking a bill to end the government’s liquor monopoly with a measure to increase transportation funding.

As a matter of principle, it’s bad business — and sometimes unconstitutional — to bundle unrelated legislation as a way to get it passed. The Post-Gazette has opposed such maneuvers, and we do so now.

Both proposals deserve a separate vote and both deserve a “yes” from the Legislature.

But the leadership that controls the House and the Senate (in both cases the Republicans) will use the tactic that would seem to leverage more votes for their initiatives. If that means these two subjects must be joined at the hip, at least in negotiations for support, the minority Democrats can thank only themselves. They’ve been the ones who have blocked for decades the state from getting out of the wine and spirits business.

Now the party is crying crocodile tears over this unholy marriage.

Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa of Forest Hills was quoted recently as saying, “I’m offended by the linkage between something significant — safety — with something of luxury and convenience.” It’s the latest sign that the Democrats don’t get it.

His putdown of liquor privatization, as something about “luxury and convenience,” couldn’t be more wrong. At other times, Democrats are eager to point out that the issue is about $494 million a year in revenue, 600 stores and 4,500 employees — all of which we believe belong in the private sector, as it is in nearly all other states.

We’d go a step further. This issue has symbolic importance for Pennsylvania and is a gauge on whether the state is forward looking or backward thinking. State-owned and state-run liquor systems are a remnant of post-Prohibition, when politicians decided that only the government was capable of selling wine and spirits.

In 1933, you could understand that mindset. But in 2013, the archaic notion lives in only two states — Pennsylvania and Utah.

So this is about more than luxury and convenience. It’s about doing what 61 percent of Pennsylvanians, at last count, want. And maybe it’s why the Legislature’s minority party is in the minority.