Pension reform is on the back burner and a deal for the state budget appears to have been reached. That leaves alcohol privatization/expansion and transportation funding as the two remaining major issues lawmakers were planning to deal with before their summer break. (Yes, Medicaid expansion is also back on the table).
It’s the transportation package that is now on life support. One might wonder how this is possible given Republican across-the-board control of the House, Senate and Governor’s office, but the GOP is fractured, especially in the House where Conservatives led by Butler County’s Daryl Metcalfe came out against the transportation plan late this week. They objected to motorist fees and other charges they deemed a pseudo tax increase.
That means House Speaker Sam Smith and Majority Leader Mike Turzai have to find Democrat votes in the chamber if transportation funding is to become a reality, but this is a little more complicated than a simple vote whip. Democrats in the House, knowing they have some power in their hands for the first time since the GOP took control of the chamber several years ago, are leveraging their position in an attempt to derail any alcohol privatization or expansion plan. Publicly, Democrats say they won’t support the transportation plan because it is inadequate. Privately, reports have surfaced that Democrats received emails this weekend from unions representing state store workers urging them to hold out on transportation in order to kill alcohol privatization.
And the chess match continues.
Transportation funding was arguably the most critical of the major issues lawmakers were expecting to address on this final week of June, the funding especially important given the deteriorating state of the Commonwealth’s roads and bridges.
With the state budget seemingly wrapped up, lawmakers could elect to remain in Harrisburg beyond Sunday to try to work out their remaining issues. Governor Tom Corbett also has the power to call for a special legislative session if he wants to force lawmakers’ hands on any or all of the remaining unresolved issues.
After months of hearings, public rhetoric and legislative wheeling & dealing, the state Senate passed an amendment to the House liquor expansion bill early this morning.
Senate Republican Leader Dominic Pileggi says his amendment would allow beer distributors to sell wine and liquor, while also paving the way for convenience stores and gas stations, as well as supermarkets that meet certain requirements similar to existing laws regarding beer sales. The bill would also allow the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board to lease the wholesale end of the liquor business for up to 10 years.
Pileggi introduced the amendment after privately securing the votes needed for passage.
Debate on the amendment did not begin until well after midnight, with the amendment vote coming after 1am. The amended legislation now goes back to the Senate Appropriations Committee and is expected to come back to the Senate floor this weekend. Both the House and Senate are scheduled to be in session throughout the weekend heading up to the state budget deadline Sunday night.
Such late-night votes had become taboo in recent years, dating back to the highly controversial 2005 legislative pay raise that outraged voters and cost several high-ranking lawmakers their offices. Several Democrats criticized the timing of the vote.
The amendment passed 27-23.
On this week’s Radio PA Roundtable, state budget talks continue and lawmakers are still dealing with the big issues of liquor privatization, transportation funding and pension reform. Updates all around from lawmakers and the state’s Budget Secretary.
Click the audio player below to hear the full broadcast:
The long-awaited and much-anticipated Senate version of liquor privatization legislation is now officially unveiled. State Senator Chuck McIlHinney uncorked his proposal Tuesday after chairing a series of public hearings in his Senate Law & Justice Committee.
McIlhinney’s proposal would expand the carry-out sale of wine and spirits to more than 14,000 existing license holders, such as restaurants, hotels and beer distributors. Currently, their licenses only allow for the sale of alcohol to be consumed on the premises. There would be annual fees for permit holders…$8,000 for wine AND spirits; $4,000 for wine OR spirits only; and a $2,000 specialty permit to sell only a specific category of spirits (brandy & Cognac, cordials, gin, rum, tequila, vodka, whiskey).
The legislation would dramatically expand the access to alcohol for consumers, but the state would maintain wholesale control of the system for at least two years, during which a study will determine the next steps, which could include total divestiture of the wholesale system.
State stores that currently sell wine and spirits will be evaluated based on the expansion of sales in each given area. Some stores may be closed, others may remain open. There are also reforms for packaging and shipping included in the Senate version of the bill, including allowing direct shipments from wineries to PA residents. The onerous 18% Johnstown Flood Tax would also be eliminated under the proposal.
While Governor Tom Corbett wants any privatization proceeds to go to an education block grant, Senator McIlhinney’s bill directs funds to a Property Tax Freeze program for seniors. Additional money would also be set aside for rape crisis and domestic violence programs.
Critics say the plan would cost PA taxpayers tens of millions of dollars in lost revenue.
McIlhinney said Tuesday that the legislation has the votes to make it out of committee, but he does not yet have enough votes to pass the proposal in the full Senate. Governor Tom Corbett has said he wants a privatization plan passed before lawmakers finish their work on the state budget and head out for their summer break.
Starting this month, we will be placing audio from the complete “Ask the Governor” programs on PAMatters.com. Now, you can listen to the entire program and/or watch video clips of specific topics. Click the play button to get started…[audio:AsktheGov06-10-13_1.mp3]
This program was recorded Monday, June 10th, 2013 and includes discussions on the following topics and more:
-The Philadelphia building collapse investigation
-The budget talks
-Liquor privatization efforts
-The return of Pennsylvania’s original copy of the Bill of Rights
-And listener & web viewer emails
Our next program is scheduled for July 3rd. Submit your question or comment today by clicking on the Ask the Governor link at the top of this page. Be sure to include at least your first name and the town where you live, and please be brief.
On this week’s Radio PA Roundtable, the investigation into a deadly building collapse in Philadelphia may focus on the city’s licensing and inspections process. The Mayor and a city commissioner faced heated questions the day after the collapse this week. Also, tempers flared at a hearing on liquor privatization as the Lieutenant Governor and a state senator squared off and U-S Senator Pat Toomey takes a 10-year old girl’s fight for life to the Senate floor.
Radio PA Roundtable is a 30-minute program featuring in-depth reporting, commentary and analysis on the top news stories of the week.
Click the audio player below to hear the full broadcast:[audio src=”https://s3.amazonaws.com/witfaudio/radiopa/Roundtable06-07-13.mp3″]
Tempers flared at the third and final public hearing for the governor’s liquor privatization plan before the state Senate Law and Justice Committee in Harrisburg Tuesday. As union members lined the back wall of the hearing room, Lieutenant Governor Jim Cawley and committee minority chair Jim Ferlo went at it.
Ferlo launched the first verbal assault, calling out the Secretary of Health, the Police Commissioner and a Deputy Secretary of Education for appearing with the Lieutenant Governor to promote a plan that would expand access to alcohol. Ferlo called their actions laughable and outrageous, while the union members in the room cheered him on.
Cawley fired back, however, seeming visibly angry at Ferlo’s attacks and saying the senator should be embarrassed for attacking three public servants as individuals rather than speaking to the issue at hand. Cawley was booed and jeered several times by the union members in the room.
The tense moments came toward the end of a long day of testimony that also included input from representatives of the beer and spirits industries, an economic analyst and union representatives.
Committee Chairman Charles McIlhinny will be the author of the Senate version of the privatization bill. He informed the Lieutenant Governor, a fellow Republican, that he was opposed to the administration’s plans to use the proceeds from the sale of the state stores to fund block grants for education, a plan critics say will do little to help in the classroom.
The state House passed its privatization bill in March, an amended version of the governor’s plan that takes out the public education aspect. That legislation has little chance in the Senate, but the two chambers may work together on a compromise plan before breaking for the summer.
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