Tuesday, March 10, 2009

More People Upset by the PLCB's Latest Off-Pitch Idiocy

It's not just me that thinks the PLCB is crazy, stupid, and wasteful spending $173,000 of Pennsylvania taxpayers' money (in a budget crisis...) on teaching PLCB clerks to say 'hello' and 'thank you' (I hope they're not training them to say "Have a nice day!"). Check out this from the Chambersburg Public Opinion:

But let us take our own stab at it.
Pennsylvania liquor store employees: When conducting transactions and serving customers during your work hours, be solicitous and respectful, smile, and always say please and thank you.
There! We just fulfilled the fundamental intent of this insane PLCB endeavor, and it cost you less than a buck.
Much obliged.

NBC affiliate WCAU/Channel 10 in Philadelphia had a proper response, and pointed out that Philadelphia's Department of Licenses & Inspections, another agency with a bad customer service reputation, was getting free customer service training, courtesy of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in town.

Shameful.
Not only are you (the taxpayer) footing the $175,000 bill for a better experience at your local liquor store in Pennsylvania. Guess who gets that money? Turns out you're padding the pockets of a man who is married to one of the Liquor Control Board's top-level employees, according to the Inky. How convenient.
But there's no conflict.
Suuuuure there isn't!

The Lehigh Valley Express-Times was quite a bit more blunt about the whole thing:

Pennsylvania's antiquated system for selling booze and wine has been out of date for decades. But don't look for the state to give up the cash-cow system and its cache of patronage jobs anytime soon.
Maybe the powerful bureaucrats can teach their brothers-in-law how to say hello and thank you before they get the job.
It would save us all a few bucks.
Ouch!

But the PLCB -- and the lucky Buddy Hobart of Solutions 21 -- knew people might be skeptical (at least, skeptical of the program; looks like the whole nepotism thing caught them off-guard). From the initial story:

"What I say to the skeptical," said Buddy Hobart, president of Solutions 21, "to those of us in the world who believe we've arrived and don't need to improve: Look up the word arrogant in the dictionary."
Added the LCB's Conti: "This is a vast adventure, and it's one we have to take. We know some people will critique us, but we like that. It only makes us better."
Hello? What I say to the Buddy is that it's all about the money his firm is getting paid for these truly questionable services. Because no one on earth believes that the PLCB has "arrived" or doesn't need to improve. Actually, that's not quite true; as I've said before, I don't want the PLCB to improve, I want them to go away.

And Conti? "A vast adventure"? "We like that. It only makes us better"? Please! Spare me the happy talk. Learning to say "Please" and "Thank you" is not a vast adventure.

What you should be doing is creating a divestiture plan, a plan to make the most possible money for the State by dismantling the State Store System, selling off its assets, setting up a new licensing system for private liquor stores that will actually benefit the State instead of the store owners, and minimizing the impact on the PLCB clerks and the costs of privatization.

That would be a vast adventure worth taking.

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

Even if they can't muster a Hello, or a thank you - where else are you going to go for your booze???

It's not like PA residents have much of a choice!

sam k said...

I can't tell you how much street feedback I've gotten on this insanity just in the first four hours of business today. It's got top of mind awareness that couldn't be bought for their $175,000 otherwise. This pig is going to blow up in their faces, lipstick and all, and could be the best thing that's happened to the effort to get rid of the PLCB yet! Better than Joe Conti, maybe!

Fast Eddie has porked up the patronage payroll like few others in his position ever have, and in a down economy (with a hiring freeze in place!!), it looks even more egregious than normal. Look into former State Rep Dan Surra's no-bid hiring as an adviser to the Pennsylvania Wilds at $95,000 a year, $6000 more than his former job, from which he was ousted by the same people he now "serves." The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review called it "Rendell's Stinky Cronyism." Nice job, Ed. You're looking out for the little guy, alright!

Let's continue to talk about the dwindling bourbon selection, too! THEY'RE ALL IDIOTS!!

TC said...

A couple of thoughts...

First, it's interesting to me that if I get people I know to do the flowers/food/drink/transport and so on for my wedding, and I do so to save myself some money, and to throw a few grateful dollars the way of my friends and family, that's perfectly acceptable. I get what I want, people I know make out, everybody wins.

When big business and governments do this, it's nepotism and evil and the rest. I wonder why that is, exactly. I mean, I agree that cronyism and nepotism is wrong, that people SHOULD be hired and fired and promoted and whatnot on their merit, but what, objectively, marks the difference between the couple grand I'm spending to get married and the couple hundred thousand the state pays for charm school or anything else?

Second, I think the gargantuan size of the PLCB/SSS lends itself to malaise, to service somewhere between mediocre and lousy, and to a product that serves the lowest common denominator. It's like Walmart: if you want some cheap underpants, you go there. You don't go there for the helpful people in the blue vests, or for the excitement of being there, or even for the quality of the product. You go because something you want or need is available and it's probably inexpensive. If you want the comfortable suit made from the finest materials by the most gracious, steady hands, you go to your tailor.

The PLCB will always be Walmart, and it will especially always be Walmart as long as it only has to compete with liquor stores across the border. The employees receive, essentially no training. Their knowledge extends to what is most popular, and what stuff they've personally consumed. If I'm looking for a dry whiskey with a lot of peat, or wine with little tannin and lots of oak... well, I don't know who is going to help me. Of course, I shop at State Line in MD, and Moore Bros in NJ, so I don't need them anyway, generally.

Third, I'd be curious what would happen if the PLCB decided to allow privately owned and operated liquor stores. That is, they keep their stores open, but a couple of privately run specialty shops--like a Moore Bros, perhaps--are allowed to open up. I wonder what would happen to the business--both PLCB, and the new guy.

Lew Bryson said...

TC,
No nepotism in state contracts is simple: fairness. People should not get fed at the public trough just because they happen to have rolled in the mud with one of the pigs. See, you get your buddies/family to do stuff for your wedding: no prob, because the couple down the street gets their buds to do it, and it spreads things around. But the State's the only contractor for big bid stuff like this (they also spent $3.6 million on consultants for sprucing up the stores last year...really: http://noplcb.blogspot.com/2008/05/does-anyone-at-plcb-know-what-word.html), so there's no spreading around. When you do that, you get people, rich people, who have a vested interest in keeping you in power, and that's why patronage is so popular. Anyone who keeps the PLCB clerks employed, for instance, is guaranteed their votes in the next election.

Second, I agree. Done.

Third, can't see them doing it, mainly because it would take major re-writing of The Almighty Liquor Code, and the Legislature will privatize booze sales entirely before they'll do it halfway. Although...there was a plan to half-assed privatize it: the State would be the wholesaler, and there would only be as many liquor stores as there are now, they'd just sell them to private companies (and if you don't think there'd be some patronage there, you're a lot dumber than you sound). Disastrous idea, and I'm very glad it didn't happen. I think that was Tom Ridge's proposal.

Thing is, right now is maybe the best shot we've ever had at privatization, because of these PLCB screw-ups. We need to push hard.

TC said...

Lew--

Good point. In the few minutes I thought about it before posting, I hadn't considered how nepotism leads to political stagnation. Bad democracy. And so on.

And I don't mean that third point as what I WANT to happen. I'm just curious how that would play out. As it is, I'm all for an announcement that says that the PA state stores will close their doors in 6-12 months, and that new, private retailers will have the opportunity to get sales licences that will go into effect the day after the closing.

Sounds good, everybody? Okay.

ClockworkOrange said...

The Consumerist mentioned this on their site:
http://consumerist.com/5167538/pennsylvania-training-its-state-liquor-store-employees-to-be-nicer

Some funny comments there - "Why does the state own liquor stores?" And a bit of misinformed replies as well.

Rich said...

Lew, what can we do as concerned citizens? The fact that they spent this money was a concern to begin with but now that there is some underhanded dealing that goes along with it that just steams me.

Write letters to our state legislators? Picket at the local liquor stores? Sue the state government? There's gotta be something as citizens that we can do to be heard.

Lew Bryson said...

Rich,
Write your legislator: tell them that these latest problems with the PLCB have taken things to the point where it clearly is time to privatize -- and that you want privatization to be a clean process! Make no mistake: liquor store privatization is going to be a disgustingly ripe arena for corruption, and we'll have to watch it like hawks. But the PLCB is screwing up left and right; it's time to go.

Don't just write your legislators, write to the papers. People definitely see those letters, maybe people who never thought about privatization, or why it might be a good idea, or about this latest stupidity: the 'make nice' training was front page in the Inky, but the Hobarts' connection was buried on page 2 of Local News. Newspaper editors around the state are starting to talk about this; if we can get the Inky, the Post-Gazette, the Patriot, the Record talking about it, we've got a push going.

Write to state Senator Rob Wonderling (http://www.senatorwonderling.com/) According to a story in the Post-Gazette, he introduced a bill on privatization last year and plans to re-introduce it this year. Tell him you support it, tell him why, and tell him to contact your senator to tell him his constituents support privatization.

Talk to your neighbors. Sam K. says people are talking about this at work: don't let it die down. This is ridiculous, to be spending this money in the middle of a budget crisis, but you have to emphasize it's normal for the PLCB, because they're not accountable. We can sell them and make a ton of bucks, the taxes will still roll in, we'll probably make a lot more, and it will mean more jobs.

---Guy said...

Typical Pennsylvania politics.

"We hired the best person for the job. It's just a coincidence that he/she's my wife/husband/niece/brother-in-law/cousin/law partner/etc."

We're extremely lucky that our elected and appointed officials have such talented relatives and friends.

Rich said...

All good points, Lew. You should also link this up on STAG. Good stuff.

---Guy said...

TC, I'm surprised I have to point out the obvious. What you do with your money is nobody's business because it's your money. Spend it with friends, relatives, give it away, burn it, whatever you please.

But the state spending money is completely different. The spending of public funds has to be held to a higher standard. Our officials are entrusted with taxpayer funds for the public good, not to enrich themselves or their cronies. No bid contracts, hiring relatives, kickbacks, all are abuses of that trust but sadly far too common in the Commonwealth.

That's it, exactly.

Anonymous said...

At least its a state run sytem that SUPPORTS itself and pays people with no tax dollars, sure it has issues that need address and modernized, GHOWEVERLet me tell you that the PLCB is a self sufficient state run system that puts money BACK into the coffers. If it is done away with, 4000+ people will be ot of work. Only the big box stores, grocery stores, etc will be able to purchase the licenses as the cost will be prohibitive for mom and pop stores. Will prices drop? Very doubtful, the state hase such huge buying power, that no-one other than Walmart type stores will be able to force suppliers to low prices. Lets say I buy a small store in PA. Am I going to keep a wide variety of stock? Nope, just what SELLS, the basics, so your "choices will be farely nonexistent" except for basics, unless your store is in a bigger city. A huge area of PA is rural and most of this rural area will not benefit from the " so called positives" of the proposed plan. It would be a quick windfall for the state, but over the longterm, the money that the PLCB puts into the coffers each year will disappear. Don't quote me, but they put something like 200 million back into the state. So other than a get rich scheme, based in our capital city, (harrisburg pa) that is near bankruptcy, it would be shooting our selves in the foot, and putting thousands out of work and that loss of revenue. I can almost guarentee higher prices, big stores as owners (and they have deeper pockets to have lower prices) not many rural stores, less choices, poor product knowledge, no specialty oredering/transfers from nearby PLCB run liquor stores, and many other issues that I cannot go into detail. No I do not work for the state, nor am I affiliated with it. Just a concerned citizen who like to imbide once in a while. Also, who will head up alcohol education for our youngin's?

Lew Bryson said...

The main reason the PLCB appears to put money in the State's "coffers" is because of the state liquor tax. That's about 75% of the money the PLCB brings in; private stores would still collect that tax and send it in (and it's estimated that they'd bring MORE tax in, because people wouldn't be leaving the state to buy booze in better stores.)
You say 4,000 people will be out of work if we privatize the stores. The Gov's plan has 1200 licenses for liquor stores; at only 4 employees each, that's almost 5,000 jobs created. Problem solved. And you can't say who can afford the licenses; the price isn't set yet.
The state's "huge buying power." Heard that so many times. They don't USE it that well, since prices are about the same here as they are in NJ, where it's private stores.
As for the "poor selection in rural areas" argument, it's bogus. Look at the grocery stores in rural areas; hardware stores, bookstores, clothing stores, sporting goods stores. They ALL have less selection than stores in cities and suburbs: that's part of living in the country! We need a bloated, inefficient, unresponsive state monopoly so they can get a better selection of booze? GREAT reason to screw the rest of us!

But this is the one that kills me: you say privatization will bring "poor product knowledge." Have you ever asked a PLCB clerk for wine advice, or whiskey advice? I have, and the response is usually either laughable or non-existent. I get GREAT service at private stores, product knowledge is a point of pride.

"no specialty oredering/transfers from nearby PLCB run liquor stores", well, FANTASTIC! I don't want any nearby PLCB-run liquor stores, because they suck! No, instead, I'll go to another private store (or check their inventory on-line), or I'll have the first store order it in. And it will happen more easily than it does with the PLCB. The system is so broken that it can't be fixed, and I can't see the point in wasting time trying. They've had years, decades to fix it: what did we get? WINE KIOSKS. Time's up!

"Also, who will head up alcohol education for our youngin's?" Oh, you think it should be L.C. Bee? How about the Department of Education? The BLCE can do enforcement, Dept of Revenue can do tax collection. And nobody needs to do "brand registration," since it apparently has no real utility anyway. We CAN abolish the PLCB!

Thanks for playing.

Anonymous said...

Let me tell you that the PLCB is a self sufficient state run system that puts money BACK into the coffers. If it is done away with, 4000+ people will be ot of work. Only the big box stores, grocery stores, etc will be able to purchase the licenses as the cost will be prohibitive for mom and pop stores. Will prices drop? Very doubtful, the state hase such huge buying power, that no-one other than Walmart type stores will be able to force suppliers to low prices. Lets say I buy a small store in PA. Am I going to keep a wide variety of stock? Nope, just what SELLS, the basics, so your "choices will be farely nonexistent" except for basics, unless your store is in a bigger city. A huge area of PA is rural and most of this rural area will not benefit from the " so called positives" of the proposed plan. It would be a quick windfall for the state, but over the longterm, the money that the PLCB puts into the coffers each year will disappear. Don't quote me, but they put something like 200 million back into the state. So other than a get rich scheme, based in our capital city, (harrisburg pa) that is near bankruptcy, it would be shooting our selves in the foot, and putting thousands out of work and that loss of revenue. I can almost guarentee higher prices, big stores as owners (and they have deeper pockets to have lower prices) not many rural stores, less choices, poor product knowledge, no specialty oredering/transfers from nearby PLCB run liquor stores, and many other issues that I cannot go into detail. No I do not work for the state, nor am I affiliated with it. Just a concerned citizen who like to imbide once in a while. Also, who will head up alcohol education for our youngin's?

Lew Bryson said...

Oh, yawn. The same response over again. Grow a brain, will you?