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.