Hey, Pa., let's have a drink!

Posted: March 26, 2013

ANY CIVIC-MINDED citizen looking at our Legislature - and I suggest never looking directly at our Legislature - might conclude the place is nuts.

Such a person might be aware of actual problems facing the state and wonder why it's obsessing over booze.

If you've been comatose or otherwise inattentive, state lawmakers, prodded by Gov. Corbett, are busy (again) trying to end the state-run monopoly on hooch.

The goal (again) is to get more booze to people more easily at more competitive, namely cheaper, prices while, allegedly, bringing the state more revenue.

Not an inherently bad goal, I'll grant. And Corbett and the Legislature could benefit from anything resembling even a whiff of progress.

It's just that a sober citizen might think soft issues of consumer convenience and market-driven ideology should take a back seat to real-world issues wrapped around jobs, education, pension crises and transportation/infrastructure.

Which makes me think perfidy's afoot.

Our leaders' message might be, "Look, we can't get anything real done, so have a drink, have another and don't worry about a thing."

Here's why.

More booze can cloud thinking that might question why the sixth-largest state has the largest full-time legislature and pays its members higher salaries than every other state but California, which has three times our population and fewer than half (120) our number of lawmakers (253).

A couple of double shots of Wild Turkey can distract attention from Pennsylvania's 8.1 percent unemployment rate, which is higher than the national rate (7.7) and that of neighbors Delaware (7.2), Maryland (6.6) and Ohio (7).

A nice bottle of Jigsaw Willamette Valley Pinot Noir can prevent folks from finding the 2013 report on the states by the Corporation for Enterprise Development, a national, nonprofit research group.

The report notes that Pennsylvania workers' average pay ($47,655) places us 16th among states, lower than neighbors New Jersey and New York.

It says our citizens' median net worth ($93,000) puts us 15th among states, below neighbors Delaware, Maryland and New Jersey.

And it points out we're 25th in the percentage of population with a college degree, behind Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey and New York; and 24th in early childhood education, behind Maryland, New Jersey and New York.

As for transportation and infrastructure, it may take several tugs on a 750-milliliter bottle of Grey Goose vodka to ignore the 2013 report on the states from the American Society of Civil Engineers.

It says that we have 5,540 structurally deficient bridges and 852 "high-hazard" dams, that 57 percent of our roads are in "poor or mediocre" condition and that driving on roads here in need of repair costs each motorist $341 a year.

Yet, Harrisburg's focus is beer, wine and liquor.

First, the Legislature is taking a two-week Easter/Passover break.

Then, the hybrid, phased-in privatization bill the House passed last week is to get Senate hearings sometime within 30 to 60 days. Then - because the Senate isn't as hot to privatize as the House is - a new and different booze bill is likely to emerge.

Then, if the Senate acts, the issue heads to a House/Senate committee for more debate/negotiation, and maybe something regarding state stores could change.

And, look, changing almost anything in Pennsylvania is good. The liquor system makes little sense. The only similar system is in Utah, where 62 percent of the population is Mormon, and Mormons don't drink.

But this is an issue that should have been dealt with long ago, like in March 2000 under Gov. Tom Ridge, when the state unemployment rate was 4 percent.

Now it's a near-hypnotic obsession. It's a shiny object attractive to many. But it doesn't reflect the real needs of Pennsylvania today.

Email: baerj@phillynews.com

Blog: philly.com/BaerGrowls

Columns: philly.com/JohnBaer

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