The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

February 9, 2013

JOHN FINNERTY | Beer battle brews

John Finnerty
CNHI Harrisburg Bureau

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.


Around Harrisburg:

You probably weren’t hanging on the governor’s every word during his budget address. But I was. Sad, I know. But there I was, reading along with the provided text in the event that the governor would express something historically significant or, at a minimum, vaguely interesting.


But midway through, Corbett dropped a familiar name, giving credit to Sen. John Gordner, R-Columbia County, as one of the prime sponsors of the Keystone Works legislation.

The governor introduced Pennsylvania to Greg Vasquez, a York resident, who after getting laid off, became the first person to enroll in Keystone Works. He ended up working at Schugt Manufacturing. As the governor told it: “Greg was laid off last summer. Around that time we, working together, Republicans and Democrats, passed legislation creating the Keystone Works Program. This program is built around a worker’s ambition, not bureaucratic rules.

  Keystone Works provides on-the-job training to allow displaced workers to train for open positions.

The innovation in Keystone Works is that a worker enrolled in the program does not lose access to unemployment benefits while participating in training to get a decent job.


A couple weeks ago, Sen. John Wozniak, D-Westmont, announced he was forming a Third Class City caucus – though in conversation he prefers to call it a “Confederacy.”

This week, Wozniak said he is moving forward and hopes to convene a summit in Harrisburg in April to get the ball rolling. For those who missed it, in Pennsylvania, just about every city, except Philadelphia and Harrisburg, is a Third Class City. Wozniak hopes that by marshaling the political power of all the smaller cities, it will create greater balance against the political power of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

John Finnerty covers Harrisburg for CNHI News Service.

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