If you had a clean slate, could lay things down the way you think would be best for selling alcohol beverages in Pennsylvania...how would you do it? I heard that question asked recently at a small discussion of the prospects of PLCB privatization, and it gave me pause.
Some things were easy. Would I keep the state-owned stores? Certainly not. Would I ever have the State as the sole wholesaler, with a committee in Harrisburg deciding what would and wouldn't be sold in the state? Don't be ridiculous. Would I keep the police-enforced monopoly, making it illegal for Pennsylvanians to buy a bottle of wine across the river in New Jersey? Not on your life. Would any of us keep the nonsensical case law, or its equally ridiculous corollary, the two sixpack limit at bars? Hell no, done away with, along with "registration"!
But... Would I want anyone who wanted to be able to sell beer, wine, or spirits, by the bottle or by the drink, with no limit other than a small fee and maybe a criminal background check? Should municipalities (of whatever size) be able to control that through zoning? What about BYOB and corkage fees? Would I impose excise taxes? Wholesaler franchise laws, brewery/winery self-distribution, hell, the whole idea of the state-imposed three-tier system: keep it, modify it, or toss it out the window? Honestly, there are things that cause me some head-scratching. I like the idea of no license limitations and a small fee: I've already said that I think licensing limitations lead directly to nuisance bars. But if a majority of people in a town really want to put a limit on the number of licensed bars/restaurants/booze stores, shouldn't they be allowed to? It's their town! Truly, the Devil is in the details.
However...hard as it was for me to answer the question, the pro-PLCB side found it even harder. There are just too many contradictions in the current system to put it forward as the ideal situation with a straight face. Government control of retail? If it's good, why not government control of beer sales? Why not government control of by-the-drink sales? And believe me, no one wants the government controlling that. Can you imagine PLCB clerks as bartenders? The mind boggles. They certainly couldn't call it "the hospitality industry" anymore...
If you grant control, and manage to come up with a cogent argument for it, how on earth do you then task the very same agency with regulation, taxation, and regulation of booze sales with an eye towards -- literally -- controlling how much people drink? Does anyone really think an agency that's supposed to be keeping us from drinking too much, that was created "for the protection of the public welfare, health, peace and morals of the people of the Commonwealth and to prohibit forever the open saloon," (as the Almighty Liquor Code puts it), is the agency that should also be advertising the idea of buying mom a bottle of vodka for Mother's Day?
I've said I wouldn't want to debate President For Life Wendell W. Young IV about privatization -- the man is just too glib a liar -- but it would almost be worth it to sandbag him with that question: if you could wipe away the Pennsylvania Liquor Code and build a new way of doing alcohol beverage retail from zero...would you create the PLCB and the State Store System, the beer distributors and tavern licensing, and the case law? Love to see a pro-PLCB answer to that one that wouldn't have the audience laughing their asses off.