Why Didn’t the Philadelphia Delegation Offer to Trade Alcohol Reform Votes for School Money?

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Patrick Kerkstra makes an excellent point that I’ve been banging on all year:

“The importance of Philadelphia being united in its ask of Harrisburg in this day and age is crucial for any legislative success,” said State Rep. Cherelle Parker, chair of the city’s House delegation. That’s sound advice.

But Philadelphia’s delegation could try gaining leverage another way: compromise. Gov. Corbett had three budget-season priorities: privatize the state-run liquor system, pass a transportation funding bill, and stabilize the state pension fund. He failed on all three.

What if city Democrats had helped him in exchange for more support for city schools? Parker said the city’s delegation “extended an olive branch” to Corbett on transportation funding, so long as it included sufficient cash for mass transit.

What if the olive branch had included help on liquor stores and pensions, too? Granted, both plans are loathed by most Democrats, and unions would be livid. But here’s the point: There are alternatives that could help city schools. Philadelphia’s leaders have just opted not to take them.

If the political fight over the alcohol laws was only about which consumers would be better off, and not placating the sundry rent-seeking groups who benefit from the public cartel system, it would be very easy to put together a political coalition to pass it in the state legislature.

Urban and suburban areas in the well-populated areas of the state will be better off. They will see more consumer choice, and more specialty liquor stores with better selection. Privately-owned liquor stores in these areas will feature higher wages simply by virtue of being located in richer more densely-populated places, just like we see with all retail jobs in more populous metros. Retail liquor store workers have a much better shot at retaining high wage positions in the big urban areas and their suburbs. Brian Sims’s center city Philadelphia district is the perfect example of this. The Gayborhood would see great new liquor and wine stores similar to the ones in Brooklyn. The same is true for most of the other Philadelphia districts, and certainly in the high-income Southeast PA suburbs.

If Democrats in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, and the Lehigh Valley and some of the other Cities of the 3rd Class got together and decided to offer Tom Corbett a bloc of votes for alcohol reform, in exchange for more state education dollars, Tom Corbett would probably take that deal. He would probably take it because he genuinely wants to get this reform passed. And he would take it because, if he didn’t, it would inflame public opinion on one of the key sources of Corbett disapproval and hand Democrats a great set of talking points about how they tried to compromise but Corbett wouldn’t budge.

The only reason the Democrats aren’t offering Tom Corbett this trade is that they are putting coalition management concerns – placating the United Food and Commercial Workers union – ahead of adequate school funding for kids. Which makes sense in a perverse way – UFCW members donate money and this is a voting issue for them, while poor kids in Philly aren’t legally allowed to vote and can’t donate money to Democrats because their families are poor. The coalition management calculation is obvious, but the moral calculation is even more obvious. Consumers and city school districts could get a badly-needed win if Democrats would simply vote their districts rather than subsidizing rural Republicans’ drinking habits.

This entry was posted in Miscellany.

14 Responses to Why Didn’t the Philadelphia Delegation Offer to Trade Alcohol Reform Votes for School Money?

  1. Albert Brooks says:

    Hard to believe that the Republicans are the party of change while the Democrats are the ones dragging their feet.

    • John Rzodkiewicz says:

      Albert, if Republicans weren’t dragging their feet Corbett wouldn’t need any Democrats. That includes the House where many said they sent over a bad bill they wouldn’t vote for it if came back as it was. One said they just wanted to get “the turd off their laps”.

  2. John Rzodkiewicz says:

    This post is simply amazing. You take the last three lines of an op-ed piece and turn it into a fantastic tale of Philly Democrats trusting Corbett give back some of funds he’s taken from education just from their district for a vote against their principles. Remember Corbett already tied liquor to education once, and after District Supers stood up at the dog and pony show allowed the rug to be pulled out from under them through amendment. This money you say will go to pubic schools would have to pass a Republican majority that is trying to bankrupt school districts in order to gain support for vouchers. All of this dependent on some new recurring revenue source no one can identify. You add that the only reason any Democrat would be against your plan is to placate the Ufcw? Really you’ve asked all of them and that was their response? If you say so, I guess. In your last line you take your usual shot at people that chose to live in rural areas. All this from the last three lines of someone else’s opinion piece.
    Predictably another blog has picked up on this and taken the fantasy further down the rabbit hole..The title asking if “the Democrats love the the UFCW more than poor children”. You guys are really shaking my faith in what I read on the internet! :0)

    • Jon Geeting says:

      Patrick Kerkstra floated the idea, one I’ve argued for many times here, that Democrats in urban and suburban districts should offer a bloc of votes for alcohol reform in exchange for more school money. It’s a good idea. The Republicans would do it because they need a win on one of their big three issues, and a bloc of urban Democratic votes would allow them to pass a bill without having to rely on the fundamentalist bloc in their party that hates alcohol. In exchange, they could ask for the release of the state money that the Corbett administration is currently withholding to extract concessions from the PFT. Or a return to the Rendell education funding formula, which would give more dollars to higher-need districts.

      That wouldn’t require any new money, because it wouldn’t change the overall level of spending – just the distribution of the same number of dollars in next year’s budget. The point is that they could hash out a deal if they wanted to, because the Republicans are desperate for votes, but they’re not trying.

      There’s no “principle” at stake here. It’s a coalition management issue. They don’t want to sell out a party-aligned interest group because they want the money and volunteer hours from UFCW members for the next election. That’s the only thing at stake here. On the merits, alcohol reform is a good idea that will benefit consumers and retail workers in the big metro economies, far more than it will hurt Republican state store workers and voters in rural areas. This is a win-win for urban Democrats – take advantage of Corbett’s moment of weakness to extract money, and do something good for consumers and retail workers in their districts.

      • John Rzodkiewicz says:

        Listen, this is a communication from outside the blogosphere. First the UFCW isn’t holding up privatization alone. Over a hundred groups including law enforcement, faith, healthcare providers, civic groups, community organizers….on and on have signed on and lobbied against privatization. Who you got on your side? The Commonwealth Foundation? Lobbyists from the big box chains? Governor Corbett and Mike Turzai?… All the polls show liquor reform as a low to O priority among the voters. The only poll I’ve seen (from a respected source Franklin and Marshal) that asks the true question of whether to privatize, modernize, or leave as is shows a majority favoring the options that retain control. So don’t say we the people. Some people for sure but most do not care enough to make this an issue.
        Second, you make the argument we don’t need new revenue, we can just rob other districts, and then hit bottom when you suggest it would hurt rural republicans and benefit the cities, presumably Democrats. Wow. Not the type of progressive thinking I grew up with. I say give the rural Republican districts more for education and we’ll have fewer Republicans. Give the city districts more for education and we’ll have less poverty. I’d say dedicate the plan should be to do this with all the revenue generated from a modernized Plcb, but my friends would accuse me of living in the fantasy world of the bloggers.

        • Ed H. says:

          Well said John. I agree that sticking it to rural districts is short sighted. And a modernized PLCB operating Sunday sales, and extended hours would be a new source if revenues that also keeps conservatives from throwing out the baby with the bath water.

          • Jon Geeting says:

            How is this “sticking it to rural districts”? All I’m saying is that we shouldn’t subsidize their drinking. We’re charging them less than it costs to supply booze to them. That’s ridiculous.

        • Jon Geeting says:

          It’s true that this issue suffers from the classic collective action problem. A small impassioned group of rent-seekers cares way more about their concentrated losses than the general public cares about the diffuse benefits of a reform. But that’s not a good reason for politicians to vote with the rent-seekers. The polling isn’t surprising. What is surprising is the failure of any urban or suburban Democrats to vote their districts on this issue, to protect Republican voters’ subsidized drinking.

          • Jon Geeting says:

            Also notice how you have to fall back on weak arguments about what the public “prioritizes.” Nice dodge of the fact that every poll shows majority support for private alcohol sales.

        • Jon Geeting says:

          If rural areas want as good of public and private services as more populous areas, then they should move. Why should anybody favor subsidizing people to live in the middle of nowhere? That’s the choice people make when they choose to live in less populous areas – more privacy, less convenience. They have every right to make that choice, but they don’t have a right to state subsidies.

      • Ed H. says:

        It wouldn’t require new money? PLCB privatization would be taking over $100 million a year off the table that the GOP will not replace with any taxes. Never mind the new costs of liquor enforcement that would be created because the PLCB pays for it out if its self funded budget.

        • Jon Geeting says:

          Read what I said. Changing the education funding formula wouldn’t require any new money.

          Glad you aren’t repeating the fake $500 million number anymore, but even $100 million is probably too much. And without a score of the bill from the IFO you’re just making stuff up. You’re going to see more money from more license sales, after all. And if we need more revenue after that, I’ll be arguing for printing more R licenses and raising the very low beer tax.

  3. Ed H. says:

    Because liquor store privatization sucks the big one and would hurt communities and jobs in Philly. Philadelphia shouldn’t have to trade away good jobs for education funding.

    • Jon Geeting says:

      There’d be more jobs with more liquor licenses, obviously. You mean to be arguing about wages, and it’s not even clear they’d take a hit in the big metros areas where most people live.