Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A Shot Across the Bow

Time to step things up. I just sent the following to Governor Rendell, Senators Wonderling, Tomlinson (my local senator), Greenleaf, and Rafferty, and Representative Farry (my local rep), cc;'d to the three PLCB Board members. If you feel like it, send them something similar, but don't use my letter; they'll just write it off as kook action. You can get their e-mail addresses (and those of your legislators) easily: here's a list of senators, representatives, and the governor. Have at it.


As a Pennsylvania citizen, taxpayer, and native, I strongly believe that the time has come to end the Commonwealth's monopoly on the sale of wine and spirits. This week's reports of a $173,820 consulting contract with Solutions 21 to train State Store clerks and managers "how to greet someone, where to stand, and how to read a customer's cues", and the ensuing concerns over a possible conflict of interest when it was revealed that the head of Solutions 21 is married to one of three PLCB regional managers, put a cap on a building series of questionable decisions by the Board. The people of Pennsylvania deserve better from their state agencies.

But this is almost beside the point. There is no good reason why the State is in the booze business. Approximately 75% of the monies transferred to the general fund from the PLCB are taxes that could just as easily be collected by private businesses, as is done in other states, as is done in Pennsylvania by beer distributors now. The "profits" from the PLCB stores are not insignificant, but it is very likely that any revenue loss from privatization would be more than made up by greater in-state sales when Pennsylvanians ceased going across the borders to buy spirits and wine in other states. There is, after all, a very good reason that there are huge booze superstores right across our borders; people can get the service and selection there that they simply cannot get in the State Stores. Privatization would bring those stores into Pennsylvania, keep those sales and taxes in Pennsylvania, and bring those jobs to Pennsylvania.

It has been argued since Repeal of Prohibition that the Commonwealth's 'control' of liquor and wine sales is in the interests of the citizens, that control serves, in the words of the Pennsylvania Liquor Code, "for the protection of the public welfare, health, peace and morals of the people of the Commonwealth and to prohibit forever the open saloon, and all of the provisions of this act shall be liberally construed for the accomplishment of this purpose." But all control has proven to be is an inconvenience and annoyance to the citizens. Pennsylvania's record with underage drinking, alcoholism, and drunk driving is not significantly better or worse than neighboring states that have fully privatized wine and spirits sales. The State doesn't sell gasoline, guns, or prescription drugs: why does it sell wine and spirits?

If there is no benefit to the citizens in tax revenue, convenience, satisfaction, or safety, there is no compelling reason to continue with the State-controlled retail (or wholesale) of wine and spirits. Indeed, the State's image suffers from the accusations of favoritism and patronage that dog actions like the Solutions 21 contract and the non-competitive appointment of PLCB CEO Joe Conti.

It has been estimated that privatization would bring the State a windfall of over $1 billion from sale of product stocks and other assets, and the sale of new store licenses (and I would urge the Legislature to set up any new licensing structure to benefit the State rather than the holders of licenses; it angers me, as a taxpayer, every time I hear of a restaurant license sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars that the State should be getting). Even if that's generous, and the windfall is only $500 million, that would go a long way towards plugging the current budget deficit, and tax revenues should increase dramatically. It's a win for almost everyone, excepting current PLCB employees. Some of the windfall could perhaps go for early retirement packages and re-training for the clerks and managers, they could be given preference on other state jobs, and perhaps even low-interest loans to open their own, private stores.

There may never be a better time for privatization to succeed; times such as these favor bold solutions. Pennsylvania could find new jobs and new tax revenues while pleasing the majority of the citizenry. Please consider this in the coming session.


Lewis Bryson


Rich said...

Lew, I'm working up a letter, much shorter with fewer details that gets my point across on what I think of the PLCB and current laws. It will be sent to Mr. Brubaker and Mrs. True as well as Mr. Wonderling and the governer. Although, I don't understand the connection to Greenleaf and Rafferty, why should I send to them? I also may send to the editor at Lancaster Newspapers.

Also, on the web pages you shared with the contact info, in the upper right hand corner you can put in your zip and it will give you your reps, if you don't know your district number...use zip+four for the best accuracy.

Lew Bryson said...

Greenleaf and Rafferty have shown a lot of sense about liquor laws in the past, and Rafferty held the hearings I testifed at a few years ago; he's also got some people on his staff who are interested in booze law and have given me some great responses to questions.

I would copy the editor on the original letter. I would have done that, but I just had a letter published in the Inky not long ago, and they won't publish too many. Guess I should have copied a different paper, though!

Rich said...

I have sent a letter. No response yet other than the auto responders.

Harry Spade said...

OK, I finally emailed a letter to Gordon Denlinger, Mike Brubaker (both of my reps in the assembly), and Gov. Rendell.

I don't want a cookie or anything, just wanted to let you know that yet another person is trying to do his small part to end this madness.