Friday, April 18, 2003

Put a cork in it

The brouhaha involving direct shipments of wine from vintner to consumer took a weird turn last week, when the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled North Carolina's ban of direct shipments from out-of-state wineries to Tar Heel consumers violated the Constitution's Commerce Clause, which assigns the regulation of interstate commerce to Congress rather than the states. This is the argument the Institute for Justice and boutique wineries across the country have made successfully at the District Court level in several instances. (The main issues are spelled out in editorials I wrote here, here and here.)

So what's the problem? The 4th Circuit said that NC's ban would withstand constitutional muster if the state outlawed all direct shipments, even those from in-state wineries to their customers. This is the worst of all worlds, and even the wineries who seek protection from out-of-state competition are asking the appellate court for a rehearing. As the manager of Biltmore Estates in Asheville said, the decision would criminalize commerce that's now legal, which isn't the remedy the vintners sought initially. Still, if the ruling stands, and other circuits follow suit, this could sound a death knell for wine clubs nationwide.

Ashes to ashes ...

Nevada's pro-tax caucus had its head handed to it on Thursday, when the Senate Taxation Committee rejected Kenny Guinn's gross receipts tax by a stunning 6-1 vote. A Guinn flack called the humilation a mere flesh wound, and Assembly Democrats vow to fight to the death for the tax's eventual passage, but that's what they have to say, I suppose. Since any tax increase requires a two-thirds majority in both legislative houses, allowing eight senators to kill higher taxes, the pro-theft people have a tough row to hoe. (Two GRT opponents, Sens. Barbara Cegavske and Warren Hardy, aren't on the committee, so unless one of Thursday's voters flips, you can bring out the stake, the garlic and the wolf's bane. It's dead and not expected to get better.) BTW, the committee did authorize a doubling of cigarette and alcohol taxes.

One other favorable sign: Assembly Speaker Richard Perkins and Majority Leader Barbara Buckley pledged that any tax increase this session would have to include a new levy on "big business," meaning the GRT. This is a negotiating ploy, of course, but I'd gladly hold them to that promise: If they stay true to that vow, there will be no tax increase this session, which sounds like beautiful music to me.

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

Roy's turn

Anyone who watched more than a few minutes of Roy Williams' Monday press conference could see how conflicted the guy is in leaving Kansas. Williams was asked whether he felt it was his duty to return to Chapel Hill -- and he ducked the question -- but in his tone of voice and body language, it was clear that he feels that way now. Maybe, as my buddy Jeff Taylor says, that attitude will change if his players respond and he gets the support of the boosters and the fans. But this is a guy who, for now anyway, looks as if he's coaching at Carolina more from a sense of obligation than desire.