Thursday, April 9, 2015

Gene Gene the wishing machine.

In an opinion piece in Thursday's Inquirer titled "Math supports modernization of liquor sales."Representative Gene DiGirolamo (R-Bucks) demonstrates how much he enjoys the taste of the UFCW kool-aid, supporting his bill for "modernization" of the State Store System. He decries the "hype" surrounding his bill; there is none, but he's clearly trying to generate some. His main aim is to keep the State Stores open by any means necessary, because he's strongly anti-alcohol, and just as strongly pro-union ...and pro-union campaign support.
Gene and his bestest buddy, UFCW prez Wendell W. Young IV
Representative DiGirolamo -- Gene -- offers his piece as a discussion. "Some critics have questioned these projections, and I welcome the debate - provided it is an honest and transparent discussion that extends beyond sound bites." 

Okay Gene; let's go to the math, with an appetizer of economics first. The basis of any "honest and transparent discussion" is that the PLCB is a legal monopoly -- so any sales or "profit" increases have much less to do with the service, selection, convenience, or pricing being offered than with the fact that the citizens can't go anywhere else legally. As prices increase and population increases, sales will increase; that doesn't mean the monopoly is doing a good job, or satisfying the consumer.

On to the math. DiGirolamo says that there have been great increases in LCB "profits" over the past five years, but FY 2010 itself was horrid. Operating income was down almost 32% from the year before and was the lowest since well before 1999.  In fact, looking at operating income over the past 15 years, it declined in 8 of those 15 years (including last year) on a year to year basis and the long term rate of growth of the past 15 years is only 3.3% annually. Since inflation over that same 15 year period was 37.5% (2.14% annual compound rate for 2000-2014) the real dollar growth was only 1.16% annualized and that is nothing to brag about.

Getting down to the details of your "proposal", we can see that most of it is built -- appropriately enough -- on moonshine. Here's the specific proposals Gene makes, and the monies he projects that they will reap.
  • Allowing more LCB stores to open on Sundays (currently only 25 percent can) and expanding the hours of operation on Sundays. Projected annual profit: $22.5 million.
To get an additional $22.5 million in profit means gross sales have to increase - using Gene's numbers of 6.92% profit margin - $325 million above what they currently are on Sundays, without taking sales away from any other day. This would somehow happen even though the PLCB said they would only be looking to open an additional 140-160 stores on Sunday, bringing the total to still less than half of the 605 stores they have open now. And the ones that are open on Sundays now are already the busiest ones. This seems far-fetched, if not outright misrepresentation.
  • Allowing the LCB to locate more stores inside or next to grocery stores, beer distributors, and other high-traffic areas. Projected annual profit: $25 million.
The "store in a store" program has been authorized for 40 years and in place since 1981; no further authorization is needed. Less than 20 stores are taking part (fewer than were willing to take on a wine kiosk), so the odds of that somehow greatly increasing aren't good (even less for it happening quickly, since the standard lease is for 10 years). Putting stores near grocery stores should have been a no-brainer for the last 80 years, a prime example of how the PLCB has failed the consumer all this time. Gene claims this will somehow increase profit by another $25 million on top of the claims for Sunday sales. That requires another $361 million increase in sales to get there. Gene, you said you wanted to keep the State Stores to control liquor sales; looks like you want to increase them! Total sales increase needed for "modernization" to work: $691 million.
  • Giving the LCB more flexibility in pricing, which would allow the agency to more quickly change prices to reflect market demand. Projected annual profit: $75 million
Be honest: you are saying the PLCB will be able to RAISE prices on popular items. That's the only kind of "change" that's going to happen, except for the occasional token lowering. That's not really going to help stanch over $300 million in border bleed or improve the notion that the state stores are competitive. How do I know that prices will go up?  If the PLCB is one of the largest purchasers of wine and spirits in the country, and are as effective negotiators as they claim to be, they should be getting the best prices on those purchases. To make any more "profit" above the 45.2% effective mark-up in place now, prices have to increase or costs have to decrease, and costs at the PLCB just don't go down. This is the keystone of Gene's "modernization" proposal; breaking the PLCB free of the regulated markup so they can raise prices. Everything else is window dressing.
  • Speeding up the state process for reviewing leases for the state's Fine Wine & Good Spirits stores. This is a critical piece of the puzzle because it will allow the agency to more quickly open new stores in more convenient areas. Projected annual profit: $25 million.
I have to admit: I have no idea how opening new stores faster (with no mention of actually increasing the total amount of stores) will generate that much more income.  If the state store isn't open in one spot, the people are forced to go to a different state store. Think of the 2 years it took in Mountaintop to open a new store. Do you suppose the population stopped drinking because the store wasn't opened? That restaurants and bars no longer ordered any product? Gene thinks that sales will increase another $361 million if they open stores faster. I have my doubts. Total sales increase needed for "modernization" to work: $1.05 billion. With a "b".
  • Allowing direct shipment of wine to Pennsylvania consumers while also permitting the LCB to ship products out of state. Projected annual profit: $25 million.
This one may actually make some money, but since no other state gets anywhere near 16% of their sales from direct shipments (another $361 million increase is needed) I'm not sure how realistic it is. Total sales increase needed for "modernization" to work: $1.37 billion.
  • Installing lottery ticket kiosks in the stores. Projected annual profit: $3 million.
They may make some money on this, but it's all going to be siphoned off from other businesses. If the PLCB makes some money and small businesses don't make as much...they're on their way to a new monopoly.
  • Allowing the LCB to join large purchasing consortiums to help lower the purchase price of wine and spirits. Projected annual profit: $10 million.
Besides the legality of this, other control states already have contracts in place, and all other control states except Utah allow private wine sales already, so this would be spirits only. That and the fact these consortiums don't exist yet may put a damper on the idea. And will the distillers give any additional price breaks? You can't stop selling Jim Beam because they wouldn't give you an additional nickel off the wholesale price. Again, I have serious doubts about this. 

So, Representative, please explain to us how sales will increase at least 62% above what they are now and how good that will be for the state. Sales in Washington - including increased border bleed - are up less than 15% and they have twice as many stores, open all day Sunday, Direct Wine Shipping by permit (the same as you propose), grocery store sales, and one stop shopping that you don't even propose: even if you double that because Washington only privatized liquor, you are nowhere near the increases you say will happen. Plus, there is no mention of cost increases for staff, admin, transportation, utilities, increased pension, medical or any other costs associated with a 62% increase in sales.

Open invite to Rep. DiGirolamo: if you respond, I'll publish it, but if you don't, I'll take that to mean you really don't want to have the debate extend beyond your own sound bites.


Anonymous said...

On the bright side, are there any pro-privatization Democrats? I would have to think some of the more liberal Democrats would be unhappy with the state stores having Sunday as a day off, which seems to go against the Constitution's position on religion.

Albert Brooks said...

Of course there are but being the good sheeple that they are they kow-tow to the leadership and hold out their hand for those union checks as they lean against the wall to keep from falling down because they have no spine.

Anonymous said...

Back to your post...if that's okay, who exactly are you talking to?
Sincerely, You.

Albert Brooks said...

I'm talking to whomever thinks Gene's plan is a viable alternative to getting the state out of the liquor business. Gene wanted math, I gave him math. At least you can see where the numbers I came up with came from which is more than he provided.