I don't have time to explain why I've been silent here for over six months -- a lot of it was work, and some of it was that I did a lot of talking on Facebook, which I now realize was wasted -- but that's not important right now. What is important is that HB 11, a privatization bill, is being debated in the Pennsylvania House today. Debate began last night, and continues this morning. That's exciting, but...the bill needs a LOT of work.
I've got some suggestions. Oddly enough, I got into an email discussion with Jon Geeting, who's involved with the Keystone Politics blog, "Pennsylvania's source for liberal political news and commentary." Jon's an example of why this is not your typical privatization battle, which usually lines up as liberal vs. conservative, free marketer vs. union supporter. Jon recognizes that the system we have is not as it should be, and while we don't see eye-to-eye on the taxes -- though we're not 180 degrees opposed -- we agree on a lot about the state's dysfunctional liquor code.
As I said, we got into a discussion recently, and came to six points that we agreed on, and think should be in any Pennsylvania booze privatization bill. Note that there is nothing in here about the actual end of the State Stores -- except that point 1 covers that effectively; they won't survive the competition -- or the union, because that's up to the legislators. Jon posted them yesterday at Keystone Politics, and I realized that it was time to blow off the cobwebs here and get back in the game. Here are the six points. They're somewhat controversial...in Pennsylvania. In other states, they're ho-hum standard.
1. Let supermarkets sell beer, wine and liquor, effective immediately. -- In Portugal, they sell bottles of whiskey in coffee shops; you can buy beer in supermarkets in most of the states that border PA, you can buy champagne at convenience stores in Virginia...and yet, no one's rioting in the streets. What's the big deal?
2. Charge a flat fee to any business that wants to sell booze – no cap on licenses. -- Pennsylvania's licensing system is broken, it makes no sense for the state, and the artificial limits on licenses penalize areas that are experiencing growth. Liquor licenses sell for upward of $300,000 in some counties...and the State sees only a puny annual fee from that. Get smarter: charge what a license is worth, and charge it every year.
3. Tax volume, not value. -- Pennsylvania's hated Johnstown Flood Emergency Tax is not going away; the State gets revenue from that tax, and booze taxes are an unfortunate reality. But most other states have a gallonage tax, that is placed equally on wine and spirits by the "proof gallon," a measure of volume of alcohol, rather than the way Pennsylvania does it, which is by a percentage of the price. What Pennsylvania's tax does -- unintended consequences -- is make blotto booze (cheap wine, cheap vodka) even cheaper, while making better booze even more expensive. If we're taxing alcohol for some health or moral reason, the gallonage tax is more honest; if it's just about raising revenue...well, why not put an excise tax on everything and share the pain?
4. Allow Pennsylvanians to buy wine, spirits, or beer in other states, or
through the mail/Internet from anywhere, without penalty. -- End the police-enforced monopoly. This is pretty simple. The only reason this unAmerican, anti-federal "stop you at the borders" law is even allowed is because of an overactive interpretation of the 21st Amendment. After all, I'm allowed to buy gas, food, books, clothing, whatever I want in New Jersey or Ohio; why not booze? We're American adults; we deserve to be treated that way.
5. Allow any authorized retailer to sell beer in any volume they desire, without fake restrictions. -- End the case law. Now. End all artificial restrictions on how little beer someone can buy in a single purchase, as well as how much. The case law and its tavern corollary, the "two sixpack" law, make no sense. They are there as a favor to business, not for any kind of health reason, and certainly not for the Pennsylvania consumer. Or the Pennsylvania voter. The Legislature has fiddled around for years over this simple change. Shut up and do it.
6. Open up the wholesale market to more competition. -- More wholesalers means more competition, which means better prices and service. Charging $100 million for a wholesaler license is not a way to get more wholesalers. End state-required exclusivity contracts for products; if a wholesaler and producer/importer want to enter into an exclusivity contract, that's up to them and their lawyers, but the State has no interest in mandating it. Another law that was written by the industry...and it's about time we got laws written for the consumers.
These six points will make me no friends in the industry. They completely upset the apple cart, and may ruin long-established family businesses. But they will create new businesses, and the solid family businesses will thrive and succeed...as long as big businesses, chain retailers, aren't allowed to write this privatization bill.
We get one shot at this. Get in touch with your Representative now, today! Tell them you want a better privatization bill. You want a fair privatization bill. You want them to work for you.