Wednesday morning we asked, “How low can he go?” We were thinking about Governor Corbett’s rock-bottom poll numbers as well as his attempt to unfairly tie public school funding to the teacher’s pension issue. By Wednesday afternoon, we had the answer to that question: “Apparently, lower.”
In an announcement right here in Pittsburgh, Gov. Corbett tried a new approach to his goal of privatizing liquor stores. This time he proposed tying the sale of the state system to education funding. The plan estimates collecting around $1billion in revenue from the sale of licenses and auctioning off wine and spirit retails stores over four years. [Post-Gazette, 1-30-13] Ironically, this is precisely the amount that Gov. Corbett and the legislature cut from public education in 2011, then locked in again in the 2012 budget, compounding the damage. Mike Crossey, President of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, responded to the plan saying, “It’s nice that the governor has acknowledged that he created a school funding crisis, but our students shouldn’t have to count on liquor being available on every corner in order to have properly funded schools.” [PSEA, 1-30-13]
This morning the Post-Gazette editorial board disagreed, giving full support to Corbett’s plan, saying, “The suggestion that the governor is improperly linking liquor sales and education is off base — these grants would be on top of basic educational subsidies and not instead of anything currently provided by the state.” [Post-Gazette editorial, 2-1-13] Actually, linking booze and kids is definitely off base, and here’s why:
First, this proposal only provides funding for four years. This is not a sustainable model. As we here in the grassroots have been saying, Pennsylvania’s students deserve adequate, equitable, and sustainable public funding for their schools. A one-time sale of public assets does not provide ongoing and reliable funding for our schools and the Governor knows it.
Furthermore, for the Post-Gazette to suggest that these funds would be “on top of” regular state subsidies actually misses the point that the current subsidies are inadequate and inequitably distributed. Those historic budget cuts hit our poorest students the hardest, and this plan to pass out funds to some schools through Block Grants does nothing to create equity in our funding structures. Will the governor use this one-time influx of cash to justify his refusal to address the ongoing budget crisis, of his own making, in public education?
There are many other reasonable concerns with plans to privatize the state liquor system that deserve discussion, including the loss of jobs and potential impact on underage drinking. Gov. Corbett’s plan also calls for an “unlimited” expansion of beer and wine licenses, a policy that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found actually leads to substantially increased consumption and alcohol related problems. [Community Preventive Services Task Force, 2007] Are we going to have liquor stores on the corner of every neighborhood at the same time we are closing even more neighborhood schools? That sounds like a recipe for further destabilizing our communities and merits careful consideration. And we need to think about the race and class implications of this issue.
Governor Corbett’s proposal feels like a calculated attempt to build on the public’s general enthusiasm for reform of the state liquor system. Let’s face it, middle class folks want greater accessibility and choice; they want two-buck-chuck at Trader Joes; they want to be able to ship a bottle of California wine back home when they’re on vacation. Working-class and poor people might want some of these things, too, but it will be their neighborhoods (largely urban and often African-American) that, once again, bear the burden of government policy – in this case with the dramatically increased density of liquor sellers. We have policy choices and this is not an all-or-nothing scenario. In hitching our schools to the popular issue of alcohol sales reform, Governor Corbett is setting up another false choice: first it was kids or teachers in the pension debate, now it’s kids or booze.
Saying that our state is one of the strictest in the nation when it comes to alcohol sales, Gov. Corbett declared, “You people in Pennsylvania do not deserve to be treated like that in the 21st century.” [Post-Gazette, 1-30-13] His odd, lecturing tone – “you people in Pennsylvania” – rhetorically separated him from the people of Pennsylvania (“we” would be inclusive and demonstrate that he understands we are all affected by policy decisions). But Gov. Corbett was right about one thing: our children don’t deserve to be treated like this in the 21st century.
Maybe our governor needs to come back to Pittsburgh and sit down over a boilermaker (that’s a shot-in-a-beer — a steelworkers’ post-shift local specialty), to talk about how we are going to adequately, equitably, and sustainably fund our public schools. I’d raise a glass to that.