Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Joe "CEO" Conti weeps for his threatened empire

Philadelphia Daily News political columnist John Baer writes on Representative Turzai's privatization plan here, and it's a good one. His first reaction to Turzai's idea: "I'll drink to that." It gets better from there.

Baer talks to Joe "CEO" Conti at the end of the piece. It's too good, too delicious not to quote Conti's "Why me, Lord, why me?" cri de I will.
Also, CEO Joe Conti tells me that past studies say that over time the LCB provides the state more money than a private system promises. He adds, "The board and our agency work diligently to increase the revenue we return to taxpayers, and we let the Legislature and the governor deliberate over privatization.
As if you could stop them! And let's not forget that you're fleecing the taxpayers to get that 'revenue' in the first place. But I like Baer's response to Conti's "and we let the Legislature and the governor deliberate over privatization" line:
"I hope they do - if not this year, then soon."

Yeah. That's about all this Repeal-era relic deserves.

Turzai Rides Again: new plan to dump the State's retail monopoly in the legislature

Representative Mike Turzai of Allegheny County has introduced legislation to eliminate the state's retail monopoly on wine and spirits sales. This is a well-considered proposal, one I can definitely get behind. Check the points (and my comments):
  • Privatizes wholesale operations by auctioning off 100 wholesale distribution licenses to the highest responsible bidder (key point: we do not want to leave wholesale in the hands of the PLCB)
  • Auction off 750 retail store licenses (more than we have now)
  • A biennial license renewal fee and a transfer of license fee, similar to other license application and transfer fees currently in place, will be assessed by the PLCB (make them both substantial)
  • Auction off the inventories of the current state stores
  • PLCB would be required to divest itself from the retail sale of wine and spirits over a two-year period (smart; it will take that long (and give us the chance to snaffle some bargains))
  • No person or business may own more than 10 percent of the wholesale distribution licenses statewide; no person or business can own more than 10 percent of state stores statewide (crucial, and I'd like to see provisions similar to those in the gambling licensing that keep felons out of the business, and state representatives, too; no paddling your fingers in this while you have influence).
  • The state would move to a gallonage tax, which would range between $2 and $6 per gallon for wine and spirits (generally lower than what we pay now, and... No more Johnstown Flood Tax, no more Johnstown Flood Tax!)
  • The PLCB will retain its enforcement, licensing, inspections and alcohol education authority (with, I hope, more oversight than they have now)
  • State and local police will have concurrent jurisdiction to enforce state liquor laws (excellent!)
  • All store employees must be 21 years of age (okay; not a problem, although 18 year olds can serve wine and spirits at bars now)
  • PLCB employees who wish to continue being employed by the Commonwealth will be given preference in applying for other state jobs; there would be tax credits for private businesses who hire them, or tuition assistance for college or technical school (very fair, and a major point)
Honestly, the only quibble I would have is the number of retail licenses (but if you allow beer distributors to expand their license to include selling wine and spirits for a one-time fee -- a large one -- I see a beautiful solution). This covers almost everything I would put in a bill.

Discussion? And what can we do to help?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

I got some questions about this...

Just sent this e-mail to the members of the PA Senate Law and Justice committee (and my own Senator, Robert Tomlinson). I'll be at the hearings on Tuesday, and I'll report on what happens.

Honorable Senators,
I'll be attending Tuesday's joint hearing conducted by the Law and Justice Committee and the House Liquor Control Committee regarding the recent Bureau of Liquor Control enforcement (BLCE) "raids" in Philadelphia. This is a matter of great interest and concern to me (and to quite a few others, as evidenced by the public outcry at the injustice of these events). I've taken the liberty of creating the following list of questions I'd like to see addressed at these hearings. I hope you would consider them.

•    What purpose is served by brand registration? How does this arcane and clearly imperfect process best meet that need? If that need can be met by simpler means, why not do away with beer registration altogether?

•    Why was the cost of registration recently raised from $25 per brand to $75 (especially when other states have registration fees as low as $1)? Can there at least be an exemption of registration for brewpubs that only sell beer on-premises?

•    Why was the response to this complaint three simultaneous raids carried out by multiple armed BLCE agents, during lunch hour? Why not one plainclothes agent armed with a clipboard to straighten out what is clearly a bureaucratic issue?

•    What is being done to insure that the BLCE's “anonymous complaint” process is not used to harass licensees, either by competitors or malcontents?

•    Where is the oversight on the BLCE? The PLCB repeatedly said, in the aftermath of the raids, that it was not responsible for the actions of the BLCE; the State Police also distanced themselves. For that matter, who does the PLCB answer to, other than indirectly to the Legislature, through the Liquor Code?

•    At the heart of things, is the PA Liquor Code just too byzantine and confusing for licensees – and enforcement agents! – to understand? Could the Code be substantially simplified without undercutting taxation and enforcement?

•    And of course: why does the State continue to hold a retail monopoly on the sale of wine and liquor? As an American citizen in 2010, how is it possibly fair that I cannot legally travel 15 miles into New Jersey, buy a bottle of wine, and bring it home to drink? The monopoly is unfair, and there are no compelling reasons in the public good to continue it.

As I said, I will be present on Tuesday to see how the hearing proceeds, and to report on those proceedings. I hope the hearing is fruitful, and brings progress to the process of making Pennsylvania's liquor laws more fair, more transparent, and more responsive to the desires of the citizens of the Commonwealth.


Lew Bryson

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Terrible PLCB news!

I just heard from an internal PLCB source who's been pretty reliable that the wine kiosk idea is dead. That's really bad news, because I was hoping it would be a public relations disaster for the PLCB. I'll just have to see what I can do to shove it up their nose anyway.

By the way, speaking of public relations disasters? The courtesy contract was renewed.