The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

February 9, 2013

JOHN FINNERTY | Beer battle brews

HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Corbett is playing a Clintonian language game in asserting that lifting the cap on the oil company franchise tax is not a tax increase. But it may be a game that other Republicans are willing to play along with, as they struggle to maintain their conservative cred while finding a way to fix our roads and bridges. Most lawmakers I talked to this week seemed to think that of all the governor’s priorities, the transportation plan seems the most likely to succeed.

Getting the no-tax increase crowd to go along with the need to spend billions to fix roads and bridges will be much easier than getting lawmakers to approve a measure that could destroy the businesses of constituents.

The only time in my newspaper career that I got scolded in church came after I wrote an editorial advocating privatizing liquor sales. For clarity, it was not the priest who scolded me.

Regardless, I know where lawmakers are coming from when they give voice to serious apprehension about tinkering with a beer distribution system that has created hundreds of family businesses all over the commonwealth. Eighty years from the end of Prohibition, some of those businesses are now in their third or fourth generations.

Many people are vaguely interested in seeing beer in the grocery store or convenience store. But few people have as passionate opinions on this subject as those whose livelihoods literally depend on whether the state privatizes liquor and beer sales or not.

The governor says that beer distributors will have the right to apply for licenses to sell wine and liquor, too. But in that deregulated environment, most people think the little guys will not be able to compete for long.

My favorite quote of the week that I didn’t get to use: “Your neighborhood beer seller, he can kiss his rosy rump goodbye.”

That’s from Rep. Gary Haluska, a Cambria County Democrat. But he was by no means the only lawmaker to express similar sentiments. He just did it more colorfully.

While there are those who defend the state store system, there seems to be much more entrenched opposition to any move that will be perceived as an assault on the beer distributors.

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