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Corbett’s Storm Troopers: Nailing Pennsylvanians Escaping Liquor Tax

Corbett’sTroopers: Nailing Pennsylvanians Escaping Liquor Tax
The season has finally arrived!
Memorial Day weekend ushered in the unofficial start of summer, when people relax with family and friends, enjoying what little leisure time is left in America.
But Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett made it abundantly clear he wasn’t interested in that season.
For him, it was all about making it Open Season --- on Pennsylvanians.
In a move that completely defies common sense for a Governor touting the lowest approval rating in the nation, Corbett had his state police slip across the border over the weekend to engage in sting operations, targeting Pennsylvanians for the capital crime of buying liquor in Delaware and crossing back into the Keystone State.
And what was the mammoth haul of Tommy’s Gestapo?
The equivalent of 17 cases of beer, 10 cases of wine, and 15 bottles of liquor.
As if Pennsylvania has no other pressing problems to which its increasingly limited resources should be allocated.
A good example, as seen on local news was, immediately after the liquor confiscation story, it was reported that Pennsylvania has the worst, most dangerous bridges in the nation (while Delaware’s were second best).
How can the Governor reconcile those things?  Despite having historic Republican majorities in both legislative chambers, Corbett has made zero headway fixing his crumbling infrastructure, yet prioritizes undercover operations (which nab three people) buying alcohol in another state. Going out on a limb here, but wouldn’t the substantial resources spent on operations in Delaware be better utilized elsewhere? Like in Pennsylvania?
How much taxpayer money was wasted on logistics, fuel costs, and troopers’ salaries, compared to the miniscule tax Pennsylvania “lost?”  The numbers aren’t even in the same ballpark, so why were they squandering resources just to make a point --- whatever that point is?
Try explaining that to the family who loses a loved one to a drunk driver who maybe, just maybe, could have been stopped had the state police been patrolling in-state.  Or to those victimized by burglary, assault and numerous other crimes while their police were busy making out-of-state small-time liquor busts.
On a holiday weekend where there is always an upswing in driving while intoxicated (this time, there were five fatal DUI crashes, according to state police), the Governor unleashed his dogs on those simply trying to avoid the whopping 18 percent Johnstown Flood Tax of 1936 (plus the additional sales tax) that Pennsylvania levies on wine and liquor.
Is this his way of strong-arming his liquor privatization plan?  A kind of “pass my bill or it’ll be like this until you do” message?
Great, except that his bill wouldn’t keep people from flocking to other states to buy liquor, as Freindly Fire explained in a prior column. No one is a bigger privatization proponent than I, but do it right or not at all.  And since neither the plan of Corbett nor the legislature eliminates the Johnstown tax, prices will remain high, or, quite likely, further increase, if either proposal passes.
And if Delaware stings aren’t about liquor privatization, then what are they? And why?
Give Tom Corbett credit for one thing: if he’s trying to attain a single-digit approval rating, he is succeeding better than the Democrats ever dreamed.
Aside from the sheer stupidity of engaging in such an operation, several questions are worth asking:
1.Are Pennsylvania state police legally permitted to operate in other states? If so, why? A call to the Delaware State Police yielded no information, as two individuals had no knowledge of Pennsylvania’s actions. So it would seem Corbett’s actions were conducted without the knowledge of the Delaware authorities. Which makes sense, since it is not in Delaware’s interest to put a damper on legal Delaware commerce.
2. And in an overall sense, how is any interstate regulation of commerce not in violation on the Interstate Commerce Clause?  If Corbett’s actions don’t interfere with interstate commerce, nothing ever will.
3. Remember, we’re not talking about state stores, but liquor stores that sell soda, water, mixers, etc. Since random, empty liquor boxes are used to package both alcoholic and non-alcoholic bottles at the checkout counter, do the police have probable cause to search one’s trunk after the border crossing is made?  How do the police know that the Grey Goose box doesn’t contain soda and non-alcoholic beer? As long as we’re talking about Amendments, the Governor and police should read the Fourth one. It’s kind of important.
4. If Corbett’s liquor privatization plan doesn’t pass this month --- and it probably won’t --- will the number of search-and-seizures escalate? Bet you a case of Delaware liquor they will.
Corbett continues to rationalize why his Jerry Sandusky investigation took so long. One excuse was that he didn’t have the necessary resources, since as Attorney General, he didn’t control the state police --- the Governor did.  Under that rationale, Tom Corbett as Governor is, and must be, responsible for all operations of the state police under his command, so the buck stops with him on these heavy-handed liquor stings.
As the backlash grows, this is yet another reason why next year’s re-election campaign looks very sobering for Tom Corbett.
Chris Freind is an independent columnist and commentator. He can be reached at

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