Thursday, February 12, 2009

Open Letter to the Philadelphia Inquirer

I sent the following to the Philadelphia Inquirer, which did not, unfortunately, see fit to select it for print. Luckily, me and Blogger, we got a printing press of our I'm putting it up here.

Gambling? Gambling's nothing!

Your statement (lead editorial on Feb. 9) on Governor Rendell's video poker idea hits some great points. We would have to check all licensees and spend millions on an enforcement bureaucracy (including benefits and pensions). More people already break the law rather than obey it. Current laws were set up with little public input and continue to be enforced against the public's will: the big casinos are being jammed down Philadelphia's throat. And "funding [state programs] on the backs of gambling's marks isn't the way to go."

Right on all counts, a bad idea. Yet that's exactly what we have with the Liquor Control Board. A separate enforcement (and sales!) bureaucracy, despite which people break the booze laws regularly (By the way: video poker enforcement is currently being carried out by the State Police's Liquor Control Enforcement arm...). Insanely tight inspections just to sell sixpacks, with arbitrary enforcement. Laws set up without public input: do a majority of citizens want the beer-by-the-case law or the State Stores anymore? And a huge 18% tax – "on the backs" of people who have a glass of wine with dinner – ostensibly to pay for the 1936 Johnstown Flood?

Privatize booze sales in Pennsylvania. It's fair, it's smart, and studies indicate we'd realize a windfall of over $500 million. You can plug a lot of budget holes with that.

Most sincerely,

Lew Bryson


Anonymous said...

Hey Lew, what do you think about a statewide booze boycott, until the LCB is disbanded? The LCB is a cash cow, so the state isn't going to give up liquor sales until that is no longer the case. Hit 'em in the wallet until they can't stand to be in the business anymore.

Getting people to not cheat is probably the hardest part :)

Lew Bryson said...

Those boycotts never work, not worth the effort to try...especially when I get 200 hits on a good day here! Besides, they've got so much dumb inertia that it would probably be two years before they'd give up. Can't see a two-year boycott of booze, though it would make the New Drys pee themselves with pleasure.

Anonymous said...


you wrote w/ respect to privatizing the PLCB " It's fair, it's smart, and studies indicate we'd realize a windfall of over $500 million". Lew, The PLCB generated $428 million in taxes and profits in 2008 and yet you suggest a sale for $500 million? Try several billion dollars before the state would even consider. Good luck trying to finance in this market. While the controlled system is far from ideal for consumers it allows the state to fund many commonwealth wide projects that in many cases are more important than the cost or convenience of buying booze.

Lew Bryson said...

Why do I have to keep explaining this over, and over, and over...

First, crediting the PLCB with tax collection is bogus: every penny of that would also be collected by private stores. That's the lion's share of the money the state gets from the PLCB (taxes are about 75%, 'profits' about 25%), and we're paying a stupidly high price to get them to do it. Private stores would do it for us, for no cost to the state. So stop including the taxes as part of the money the PLCB 'makes' for the State.

Second, every independent study I've seen agrees that tax revenue would increase with private stores. Pennsylvanians cross the border into New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and New York regularly to buy booze, and it's not just for the price, although that's always the reason pro-PLCB types (and who the hell are you people? You like this system?) bring up. People cross for service (wine suggestions, friendliness, useful signage, more information and knowledge about products), they cross for convenience (you can buy wine and beer in one stop!), and they often cross for selection (the SSS doesn't carry anywhere near the variety of a Total Wine; they just don't). If we had private shops just like the ones across the border---they wouldn't go across the border! We'd sell all that stuff here, Pennsylvanians' spends on booze would stay in Pennsylvania, and the tax on all that extra booze (which people are already buying, so it's not a "DRUNKS!!!" issue) would go to Harrisburg.

Third, privatizing booze sales would create jobs. Pennsylvania has a much lower number of liquor stores per capita than neighboring states; with New York, for instance, it's about 1:3. (And that's not scary: New York's "problems" with alcohol are about the same as Pennsylvania's, some are lower.) Put the number of stores up where it probably should be, and you'll see many more jobs. They won't be state jobs, with the benefits and pensions...but is the PLCB an employment scheme? We'll have more jobs than currently, and the state won't be paying new pensions or benefits. (Current PLCB employees can be given hiring preference on other state jobs, maybe loan guarantees to open new liquor stores.) And before anyone says that will mean that booze will cost doesn't cost more in bordering states now, what would be different?

Finally, just because the State did a stupid job on tavern licenses -- making them transferable -- doesn't mean they have to be stupid on liquor store licenses. Liquor licenses, which were issued by the state, now sell for as much as $500,000, yet the state sees nothing of that. Why not get some of that money? Make the licenses non-transferable, make the annual license fee higher, and every new store has to get a new license, at a cost set by the state: new revenue stream.

The state has solid revenue, we don't have the cumbersome control system, people have real choices, and they're free of the State Stores, which polls show Pennsylvanians are overwhelmingly in favor of. Plus, there's that $500 million to $1 billion windfall. Why would that be unpopular? Heck, that's a vote-getter!