Tuesday, March 12, 2013

One Good Reason

I had an essay on why Pennsylvania should privatize the State Store System put up on WHYY's "Speak Easy" page today (yes, the irony of the name was not lost on me!). Last week, Marc Stier, a self-described "writer and activist" from Mt. Airy, had an essay posted there titled "6 reasons why we should keep the state wine and liquor stores." Not long after it went up, a few people asked me when i was going to write a rebuttal, and in pretty short order I had been connected with the editor of the site, Eric Walter. He told me what the guidelines were -- pretty simple: 700 words and no trash talking! -- and I wrote it on Sunday afternoon.

The gist? Well, in response to Stier's 6 reasons, I noted that the vaunted "control" that the PLCB exercises through the State Store System is meaningless in a state where all beer sales, and all by-the-drink sales (and even wine sales at the state's many wineries, and spirit sales at the state's distilleries) are done by private entities. As I said, "control" of only one segment of the market is no control at all. Tax revenue, as I've explained over and over, is a red herring; revenue would, at worst, be a wash. His other four points were really one: keep it because of the union jobs. I countered that the UFCW, the main union involved, has successfully organized in private businesses; the bulk of their members are in private businesses, so liquor sales do not have to be a state monopoly to allow union jobs. Pretty simple.

But my One Reason was even simpler: the Legislature should privatize because We The People, the ones who actually elect them in order to have them represent us, consistently poll in strong favor for privatization, and the Legislature has been persistently ignoring those wishes for 30 years or more. It's well past time for them do what we want.

As I say in the essay, "A poll that found people in favor of free lunch every Thursday wouldn't mean the state should mandate that. But Pennsylvanians only want to join the 42 other states where people don't rely on the decisions of bureaucrats to determine what wine and whisky they're allowed to buy." We're not really asking that much. Is it as important as gay rights, as the fracking debate, as spending on transportation infrastructure? No, definitely not. But there IS a bill in motion, so let's do it.

And let's keep it simple: privatize wholesale and retail wine and liquor. Sell beer and wine in the grocery stores (and drugstores, and big box stores, and convenience stores) for a reasonable license fee without all the different limits on single purchases. Let beer distributors upgrade to all-alcohol stores with a fairly simple and inexpensive license upgrade, then add about 500 more all-alcohol licenses. Or something else simple and fair; I'm not wedded to that. We don't have to make a "windfall" on this, and the more I hear about that, the angrier I get. More to come on that, but meanwhile...please read the essay, hit the Like button, and share it where you can. Thanks!

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