Guest editorial… Questions still surround ­privatization schemes

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Why is Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett so anxious to sell off the state’s profitable assets as quickly as possible?
Last month, he ramrodded a sale of the state’s lottery system to the highest bidder—make that the only bidder—a British management company being questioned in its own country for immediately doubling the price of lottery tickets when it got the contract there. The sale isn’t quite final yet—new Attorney General Kathleen Kane still has a few weeks to review, and either approve or squash the deal.
In his trip to Philadelphia last week, Corbett was touting his latest garage sale item —the state’s liquor stores. Under his plan, the state would receive a one-time windfall of $1 billion by auctioning off 1,200 liquor licenses to private dealers. The governor says that money will be used to shore up the state’s sagging education fund. Schools could then use the money to enhance school safety, early learning and STEM-based courses.
He conveniently left out the fact that his own massive and draconian cuts to education account for at least part of the fiscal predicament in which many Pennsylvania schools now find themselves.
There are a number of concerns about the sale of the state’s liquor stores that give pause, leaving aside the governor’s sudden, if dubious, generosity on behalf of public education.
Corbett’s plan envisions about 5,000 additional outlets for alcohol: from supermarkets and convenience stores to mom-and-pop bodegas. What happens in neighborhoods where a sudden influx of liquor would be unwelcome? There have been protests for years in African-American communities over “stop and go” stores that sell huge quantities of beer and malt liquor on nearly every corner. How will those neighbors feel when those stores are now allowed to sell hard liquor and fortified wines?
And at the other end of the spectrum, if those precious auctioned licenses end up selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars, which is a real possibility, won’t those business owners build where they consider their investment safer? As opposed to hiring extra security, buying expensive Plexiglas protection, and investing in steel grates and surveillance cameras, won’t they just cherry pick their neighborhoods?
And what of the fate of the present Liquor Control Board employees, who will be forced to scramble for lower paying jobs with lousy benefits from those private liquor bosses?
There are still more questions than answers, but right now, Corbett seems more determined to sell than to study.
(Reprinted from the Philadelphia Tribune.)

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