I was talking to a licensee (that's PLCB-speak for a bar owner) the other day about this whole thing. What do you guys think about the movements towards privatization, I asked her.*
"What kind of chances do you think it has?" she asked in response. "Is this really going to happen?" I said that I'd heard G. Terry Madonna, the Pennsylvania politics maven at Franklin & Marshall College (full disclosure: I am a proud F&M grad, class of 1981, and if you have high school age children, you should consider this excellent college.) discussing it; his opinion was that it was the best shot we'd had at privatization since Repeal...and he gave it a 40% shot. That was back in the spring, though, and things had moved forward since then; insiders tell me that the votes are there in the House, and the Senate's swinging our way (and there may yet be some action from a Marcellus Shale tax deal; a 'you vote for my bill, I'll vote for yours' kinda thing). So again, I said...what do the licensees think about this?
"I'll tell you," he* said, and paused. "The Tavern Owners don't know what to do. You know, it would be great; in other states, the Absolut rep would come to you and say, 'I got a deal on this week; you buy two cases, I give you this price,' and I could say, well, what can you give me if I buy four cases, and he'd say...ooookay, and he'd give me another price, and then, then I could pass that on to the customers, do a special that week." And, I said, not only that, they'd deliver it to you. "Right!" they both* said, beaming.
"But you know," he* continued, and got right in my face: "The prices we have to pay are crazy. We don't get a good discount. And the beer sales thing? [meaning the six-pack sale monopoly taverns currently have] We know the beer stores are going to get into wine and liquor sales if this goes private; they've got the money, they're already set up. We're going to lose a lot of takeout sales [we'd already guessed that wine and spirits in the distributors would mean sixpack sales there as well], I know that, but no one's putting anything for us in the privatization [bill]. Just give me something! Ease up some of the regulations, cut back on the fees; just give me something."
Why don't you say something, I asked. They* shook their heads, and she* said, "We don't know if it's going through." The implication was clear: no one wants to piss off the PLCB by being openly pro-privatization...and then face the bureaucrats if it fails.
My advice to the 'privateers' (as Hereditary Union President For Life Wendell W. Young IV has wittily tagged the pro-privatization forces): give them something. Put something in the bill that acknowledges licensees are getting a raw deal; level the playing field by putting no exclusivity on suppliers -- let licensees buy from whatever source they want -- or take off that ridiculous 'happy hour' restriction, or let all bars sell packaged goods (to-go wine, liquor, and beer) and don't tell them how they have to do it. You'll get a powerful ally...and be a giant step closer to getting privatization.
*Might have been a woman, might have been a guy, might have been a husband and wife; might have been around here, might have been up in Clinton County where I was vacationing...I ain't saying, for obvious reasons.