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Scarnati Backtracks on Tactics For Liquor Privatization

You can’t always get what you want in the state Capitol. But if you do, it’s all right to claim the high ground afterward.

Gov. Corbett is expected to announce Wednesday afternoon his plan to privatize the state’s liquor stores, less than a week before his budget address. But Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati is already wrinkling his nose at the plan and espousing a bargaining philosophy that’s exactly the opposite of what he’s said in the past.

Budget negotiations bring the horse trader out of everyone, the Senate’s top Republican began as he spoke with reporters Tuesday morning.

“We all want this for that,” Scarnati said, alluding to the process of trading votes on one controversial issue for support of another dearer proposal.

He doesn’t want such swapping when a liquor privatization plan is in the mix.

“We don’t need to start linking issues together now,” he said. “That’s just not – that’s Washington style politics and we don’t need that.”

Scarnati said merely introducing a liquor privatization plan isn’t disruptive – but he said it would complicate things if someone were to insist that liquor privatization get passed if another big item is going to pass.

“I’ve said before that Ed Rendell taught the art of hostage-taking to many of us in this building over a period of time very well,” said Scarnati.

There was a time when Scarnati was much more willing to take a page from the Rendell playbook.

In the fall of 2011, the Senate president was hard at work on proposal to levy an impact fee on natural gas drillers.

Back then, Scarnati said he wasn’t afraid to leverage the issue of liquor privatization to get his much-desired impact fee.

“I went to school for four years – Ed Rendell’s school of leverage – and I got to tell you, there are some issues there that do help move other issues so to the extent that we can all get things done, I’m open to getting them done,” said Scarnati at a September 2011 luncheon of the Pennsylvania Press Club.

“I think Pennsylvanians want some things done,” Scarnati continued in his September speech. “So, leveraging has always been a part of business around here.”

Now the impact fee is law and liquor privatization is still unfinished business, but Scarnati said state lawmakers should focus on other top issues, like transportation funding and pension reform.

Soon after the governor’s office announced it would unveil a liquor privatization plan in Pittsburgh Wednesday, Republican Sen. Chuck McIlhinney, of Bucks County, announced he would reintroduce a bill to make liquor and beer sales laws more “customer-friendly.”

Scarnati said he still hasn’t given up on such efforts to modernize the state’s liquor laws.

“If those half a dozen bills were enacted, we’d have somewhere between 75 and 100 million dollars into the General Fund for each of the last two years,” said Scarnati, “and I think we can put a couple trains on the track and continue to work through this.”