By Brad Bumsted
Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati was selling something, that much was clear. The commodity appears to have been his lack of interest in selling the State Stores.
Less than a week after House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R., Allegheny) pitched a plan to end Pennsylvania's monopoly on liquor sales, Scarnati (R., Jefferson) called an impromptu news conference. When he was asked about Turzai's plan, he pounced, saying he was concerned that the state isn't maximizing the value of the stores. He said the Liquor Control Board should be given pricing flexibility before a sale is contemplated.
Turzai and plenty of other House Republicans say the state has no business selling liquor in the first place. Gov. Corbett has also said he supports privatization.
But Scarnati wants an impact fee on Marcellus Shale natural-gas drillers. Given the degree of support for a fee or tax among Republican and Democratic senators, look for it to be one of the first bills passed by the Senate this fall.
A Senate bill was ready in June. But Senate GOP leaders held off, at Corbett's request, until the governor's shale commission issued its report. Released last month, it said an impact fee is warranted.
Corbett and Turzai aren't keen on a shale fee or tax. But there are plenty of Southeastern Pennsylvania Republicans who are.
Ironically, Senate Republicans held up former Gov. Ed Rendell's effort to tax gas extraction. What's happened since then? Perhaps public opinion has moved more solidly in support of a fee. Also, Corbett's first budget required tough votes on cutting spending. Legislators who voted for it want to be able to tell the folks back home they are alleviating some of the pain with a tax on drilling companies. It's a feel-good proposal that's easy to vote for, since 7 in 10 Pennsylvanians support it.
But Scarnati has to get Turzai and Corbett to at least go along.
Turzai would later refer to "posturing" among his fellow Republicans. To what end?
It makes you wonder whether a shale impact fee will be the price conservative Republicans have to pay to end the state's 78-year monopoly on wine and spirits.