Friday, August 7, 2009

In Washington State: close LCB offices, open more stores!

And in other states, part 2:

The Kitsap, WA Sun is reporting that the Washington State Liquor Control Board will be closing four offices in a cost-cutting measure in the midst of their state's budget crisis, and opening more stores and expanding operations at others to increase sales. Yeah, baby, that's control. Judging from the comments posted so far, the WSLCB isn't any more popular with the citizenry than the PLCB is.

This is a new thought for how to kill your state liquor control agency: starve it to death. After all, abolishing the PLCB doesn't have to happen all at once. I'd be happy to see it die a slow and lingering death over a year or long as it starts now.

The Look Stays, for now

The poll's closed, and with over 2/3 of you saying you either like the new look or don't care, we're sticking with it for a while. Until I get sick of it. Onwards!

In New York: State Liquor Authority told to "Shape up!"

And in other states, part 1:

New York's Senate just confirmed Dennis Rosen as the new State Liquor Authority chairman, and in the process, Rosen was warned that he was expeceted to "shape up the agency." The job (which pays $120,800) is responsible for licensing and enforcement. Senators noted -- correctly! -- that the SLA's performance must improve "because it is so critical to the state's economy." The senators were distressed that liquor license applications were taking months to be processed: up to four months in Buffalo, as much as 11 months in NYC. Ridiculous! Anti-business!

Corrupt, too. "The Inspector General's Office raided the Harlem office of the SLA this spring. Law enforcement officials claimed officers there were taking illegal payments from outsiders to expedite applications."There is no one agency that has caused more pain or caused more loss of jobs than the State Liquor Authority," said Sen. George Maziarz, R-Niagara County. He has called for aboloshing [sic] the SLA. Scott Wexler, executive director of the Empire State Restaurant and Tavern Association, said the SLA may be impossible to fix. [Wow, does that sound familiar?]

(Digested from the Albany Times Union)

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Looking Forward

The general procedure around here is to find something the PLCB -- or the Legislature -- is screwing up (or The Almighty Liquor Code has already screwed up), point it out and explain why it's a problem, say The PLCB Should Be Abolished, and end with a few tart comments on how that could be accomplished. But the continuing hue and cry over the courtesy contract, the budget-driven renewed interest in selling off the State Store System, and the latest on the wine 'kiosk' bidding leads me to believe it may be time to talk about something else: what do we do if we win?

Think about it. What if all the people who are currently writing disgusted comments about the PLCB on various newspaper websites -- which is the political equivalent of snapping your fingers to keep away tigers -- turned around and started writing those disgusted comments in e-mails to their state representatives? (Which you can, by the way: start here.) What if campaign money suddenly started rolling in from donors who were in favor of privatization, folks like supermarkets, and beer distributors, and wine and liquor wholesalers? What if the Legislature finally paid attention to the economists and policy wonks who have been telling them for years that the state would be better off financially with privatization? What if...the Legislature voted to Abolish the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board?

First things first: I do not want to see a "win" diluted to the privatization of the existing State Stores, with no additional stores "allowed," and the State continuing as the wholesaler. From where I stand, this would be a very minor victory. Think about it: no grocery store sales, no more stores in low-coverage areas, no additional stores (leaving the state in an 'under-served' status), and the State still decides what goes on the shelves. No half-measures! And no damned case law, either.

I've already laid out a simplified plan for divestiture. "Do away with the PLCB: privatize booze sales, put licensing and inspection in the hands of the Dept. of Agriculture, tax collection in the purview of the Dept. of Revenue (they've got some experience with that), put the anti-alcoholism and underage drinking prevention programs under the Dept. of Health, and fully hand over enforcement to the State Police. Give a re-write of the Code over to a commission that includes interested consumers for a change, and charge them with writing a simpler, more understandable Code." Done.

But you want to know what amazes me? The Legislature's already got a plan. It was developed in 1987, and you can look at it here. Just click on the "Next" button at the top to see more. It's like reading some mirror-world where the State actually got its booze-selling head out of its ass and did things right, including putting licensing and taxing in the Department of Revenue and enforcement with the State Police, and putting the employees to work for the Dept. of General Services disposing of the assets.

They're definitely watching out for the employees, too. "The plan shall provide a schedule whereby all employes [sic] of the Board not transferred to the Department of Revenue, the State Police or the Department of General Services shall be made available as soon as possible for transfer to fill existing vacancies in other State agencies and to augment the activities of other State agencies." And "The Council shall develop plans to be approved by the Secretary of Administration for the transfer to other State agencies of all employes of the Board not transferred to the Department of Revenue, the State Police or the Department of General Services. Within the limits of available Commonwealth resources, the plan shall provide for the placement of all employes of the Board and shall not result in the furlough or reduction in pay for any employes of the Board."

I realize this means that the Governor would have to find another plum patronage position for Joe "ex-CEO" Conti, but this is a sacrifice I'm willing to make. Actually, we wouldn't have to. I think jobs like his would definitely be outside "the limits of available Commonwealth resources."

It's already done. It just needs tweaking and details. Tweaking, because it looks like they intend to keep the artificial division of beer stores and wine and liquor stores: not needed, stupid. I like the limit of three licenses per owner/corporation; it works well in Massachusetts. I don't like that owners of beer distributors are prohibited from owning a liquor store; put it all in one store. I actually wouldn't mind privately-owned booze-only stores, "package stores." Me, I don't need to buy my booze at grocery stores, as long as I don't have to buy it from the State. Details are needed, and this acknowledges that.

What we would need, though, is private citizen, non-lawyer representation on the Board that finally hammers this out. This is NOT something to be done behind closed doors; there's too much money involved. I want to see this fair, and I want to see it without all the licenses winding up in the hands of legislators' friends, and I want to see it so that it benefits the Commonwealth and all its citizens, not just a small influential group. Given the recent rotten history of the PLCB, I don't think that's an unreasonable request.

I'll have some ideas for you on how to take the fight to Harrisburg, and your local paper, and your local radio/TV stations. The iron's hot; time to strike.

Monday, August 3, 2009

HELP! Could you send me that link again?

The thoughtful reader came through immediately: thanks, Tony, I'm hooked up and ready to roll. Look for some forward-looking plans on what to do if we win!

Last year, a very thoughtful reader sent me a link to a 22-year-old plan the legislature cooked up to privatize the State Store System; it was parked off on the Web, unlinked. I had an e-mail reader failure four months ago, and when I went to look for the message in question this morning, it was gone, one of the mails that got wiped out.

If that reader is out there, could you send it again? If anyone knows what this is, and can find it, could you send me a link? I'd like to get that back. Thanks!

Why wine people don't care about the PLCB

I was chatting with a wine wholesaler the other day -- just talking about the booze biz -- and I thought of the blog and asked him: wine people would be natural allies for this fight, do you know any in the area who might be interested in doing some writing for the blog on wine issues? (Because, I'll be honest: I like to drink the stuff sometimes (had a real nice NZ sauvignon blanc last night), but I don't know enough about it to write about it.)

And the guy says, "The wine people in this part of the state (Philadelphia area) don’t care about the wine in the state stores. They don’t buy any wine here." And while that's probably somewhat of an exaggeration -- I'm sure they pick things up occasionally -- given the huge wine stores right across the border, and the constant ads in the Philly media for them, he's probably right.

One more budget crisis-related reason to privatize retail booze sales in Pennsylvania: bring all that money back into the state. Is it because this is all so simple that people don't get it?