Thursday, September 25, 2008

And again: it's about the money

Even in other states, even in other counties, "control" of booze sales is not really about safety, or consumption, or morals. If you believe that, you've bought into a lie. It's about the money. Read this story from the DelMarVa Times about why the Wicomico County Council decided to keep their County Liquor Control Board and county-owned liquor stores. I'll bold the important parts.

Liquor vote fails
Privatization booted back to discussion
By Greg Latshaw -- August 20th

Advocates of liquor stores run by the government in Wicomico County won a victory Tuesday when a vote to get state legislators involved failed by a wide margin. County Council members voted 6-1 against a resolution that asked the General Assembly for the power to hold a controversial county referendum on privatizing area liquor stores.

Permission is needed because state law created the Wicomico County Liquor Control Board under Article 2B. Despite bearing the county's name, the liquor board is considered autonomous from the county, other than the law that requires it funnel annual profits to the county. The other three government-run liquor stores in Maryland include Montgomery, Somerset and Worcester counties.

Privatizing retail and wholesale liquor stores is an issue that has polarized council members who say they are split on the value of eliminating an agency that contributed $400,000 last year and an average of $288,000 during the last 13 years.

On Aug. 5, a task force made up of business members, public officials and service organizations issued a report that stated while oversight shortcomings exist with the liquor board, there is no guaranteed way to match its revenues.

Tuesday's vote will likely send the debate back into months of work sessions. The earliest any referendum could take place, if given state approval, would be November 2010, Council President John Cannon said following the meeting.

"What substitute there will be for the revenue stream is our greatest concern," said Cannon, who is opposed, in principle, with government competing with private enterprise. "(The) council recognizes that we have more time and will take advantage of it."

Wicomico County Liquor Control Board Chairman Stewart Haemel praised the vote, saying the council made a wise decision in not tampering with a system that has a $1 million net impact. He pointed to the six-figure contribution to the county coffers, as well as the agency's payroll for its 30 employees of about $600,000. (That's a $400,000 "contribution", and a $600,000 payroll. "Payroll," as in 30 jobs that the county is paying for to collect booze taxes, when they could be paid for by private companies...that would also collect booze taxes. Am I missing something?)

"This might come up again," Haemel said. "But it seems to me that there are many people who want the system to stay how it is."

Council Vice President Stevie Prettyman, a vocal critic of the liquor board and the lone vote for Tuesday's resolution, shrugged her shoulders when asked after the meeting about the vote.

"It boggles my mind," she said.

Indeed it does, Stevie.

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