The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

February 1, 2013

Liquor sale a raid on public trust

Daily Item

---- — The re-election steamroller for Gov. Tom Corbett picked up speed this week when the governor announced his latest statewide privatization plan, this time with liquor sales. It is a move that has been tried, unsuccessfully, in Pennsylvania, for the last four decades. So, why now, again?

The $1 billion the governor said would come from the sale of 1,200 liquor licenses would be used to fund education in Pennsylvania. That sounds good. There are a lot of problems with it, however, the least of which may be the moral ambiguity that comes from using money from the sale of alcohol to fund childhood education.

In his first two years, Gov. Corbett has not won a lot of friends in classrooms. He has shaved education funding in each of his first two budgets and as he prepares to announce his latest budget this week, many school districts are holding their breath.

Gov. Corbett's plans to sell off the state's lucrative liquor business, on the heels of lottery and this week's announcement of the gas tax.

Just as no one has explained why a British company can run the state lottery more profitably than Pennsylvanians, it is not clear why the state's leveraged and volume purchasing power should not be able to yield better return on investment from distillers than a fragmented private marketplace.

These are valid business questions. They should be asked and answered, especially by a chief political executive who invokes the principles of the private enterprise when they best suit his immediate revenue requirements.

Gov. Corbett is a temporary steward of the office, which means no governor -- not this one, the previous one or the next one — has ownership property rights to state assets. The state stores, and their wares, are not Gov. Corbett's to sell.

The governor's plan seems to be to sell valued services that took years of public support and participation create and sustain. It looks like the sort raid on the public trust that Attorney General Tom Corbett would have been investigating if some other governor had done it a couple of years ago.

There needs to be an in-depth public conversation with representatives of the people in the Legislature to produce lot of clear-eyed understanding of the costs, benefits and accountability associated with these fire sales before any more-longstanding public investments are auctioned off to refill the Corbett coffers.