The general procedure around here is to find something the PLCB -- or the Legislature -- is screwing up (or The Almighty Liquor Code has already screwed up), point it out and explain why it's a problem, say The PLCB Should Be Abolished, and end with a few tart comments on how that could be accomplished. But the continuing hue and cry over the courtesy contract, the budget-driven renewed interest in selling off the State Store System, and the latest on the wine 'kiosk' bidding leads me to believe it may be time to talk about something else: what do we do if we win?
Think about it. What if all the people who are currently writing disgusted comments about the PLCB on various newspaper websites -- which is the political equivalent of snapping your fingers to keep away tigers -- turned around and started writing those disgusted comments in e-mails to their state representatives? (Which you can, by the way: start here.) What if campaign money suddenly started rolling in from donors who were in favor of privatization, folks like supermarkets, and beer distributors, and wine and liquor wholesalers? What if the Legislature finally paid attention to the economists and policy wonks who have been telling them for years that the state would be better off financially with privatization? What if...the Legislature voted to Abolish the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board?
First things first: I do not want to see a "win" diluted to the privatization of the existing State Stores, with no additional stores "allowed," and the State continuing as the wholesaler. From where I stand, this would be a very minor victory. Think about it: no grocery store sales, no more stores in low-coverage areas, no additional stores (leaving the state in an 'under-served' status), and the State still decides what goes on the shelves. No half-measures! And no damned case law, either.
I've already laid out a simplified plan for divestiture. "Do away with the PLCB: privatize booze sales, put licensing and inspection in the hands of the Dept. of Agriculture, tax collection in the purview of the Dept. of Revenue (they've got some experience with that), put the anti-alcoholism and underage drinking prevention programs under the Dept. of Health, and fully hand over enforcement to the State Police. Give a re-write of the Code over to a commission that includes interested consumers for a change, and charge them with writing a simpler, more understandable Code." Done.
But you want to know what amazes me? The Legislature's already got a plan. It was developed in 1987, and you can look at it here. Just click on the "Next" button at the top to see more. It's like reading some mirror-world where the State actually got its booze-selling head out of its ass and did things right, including putting licensing and taxing in the Department of Revenue and enforcement with the State Police, and putting the employees to work for the Dept. of General Services disposing of the assets.
They're definitely watching out for the employees, too. "The plan shall provide a schedule whereby all employes [sic] of the Board not transferred to the Department of Revenue, the State Police or the Department of General Services shall be made available as soon as possible for transfer to fill existing vacancies in other State agencies and to augment the activities of other State agencies." And "The Council shall develop plans to be approved by the Secretary of Administration for the transfer to other State agencies of all employes of the Board not transferred to the Department of Revenue, the State Police or the Department of General Services. Within the limits of available Commonwealth resources, the plan shall provide for the placement of all employes of the Board and shall not result in the furlough or reduction in pay for any employes of the Board."
I realize this means that the Governor would have to find another plum patronage position for Joe "ex-CEO" Conti, but this is a sacrifice I'm willing to make. Actually, we wouldn't have to. I think jobs like his would definitely be outside "the limits of available Commonwealth resources."
It's already done. It just needs tweaking and details. Tweaking, because it looks like they intend to keep the artificial division of beer stores and wine and liquor stores: not needed, stupid. I like the limit of three licenses per owner/corporation; it works well in Massachusetts. I don't like that owners of beer distributors are prohibited from owning a liquor store; put it all in one store. I actually wouldn't mind privately-owned booze-only stores, "package stores." Me, I don't need to buy my booze at grocery stores, as long as I don't have to buy it from the State. Details are needed, and this acknowledges that.
What we would need, though, is private citizen, non-lawyer representation on the Board that finally hammers this out. This is NOT something to be done behind closed doors; there's too much money involved. I want to see this fair, and I want to see it without all the licenses winding up in the hands of legislators' friends, and I want to see it so that it benefits the Commonwealth and all its citizens, not just a small influential group. Given the recent rotten history of the PLCB, I don't think that's an unreasonable request.
I'll have some ideas for you on how to take the fight to Harrisburg, and your local paper, and your local radio/TV stations. The iron's hot; time to strike.