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.


sam k said...

Ah, 1987...the last year of the second term of the greatest Pennsylvania governor in my lifetime, and now, 22 years later, his progressive legacy resurfaces and might finally see action!

Lew, this is an awesome and excellent thing; a plan authorized by the very agency that would be eliminated by it. What better argument for it to move forward, since who could argue against it? Oh, wait...the current governor; a man who has taken us back beyond the Thornburgh years and planted us squarely in the uber-patronage mindset of the Shapp administration.

That could be the biggest hurdle here...at least until the next election.

Lew Bryson said...

Didja have to bring up Shapp?

sam k said...

At least he got rid of the pay toilets on the turnpike!

Harry Spade said...

Whoa whoa whoa... pay toilets on the turnpike? I think I see a way out of this budget stalemate...

Thanks for the links Lew. I've hollered at my reps about this before, but I'll take a look at this stuff and get fired up again.

Anonymous said...

Good job lew, I agree with you a 100%, and thanks for hearing me out, a friend.

Anonymous said...

I am a state store employee...while I know it is my insurance and rent and groceries I'm ultimately talking about,I will say it.....we are suffering terribly from understaffing and underfunding and excessive over managment,an extremely expensive new software system which is a disaster and has hobbled our ability to function and serve the stampede of customers we face everyday... we are collectively ready to snap under the cluelessness and cruelty and arrogance of the Conti era and that is where the achilles heel in this diabolical system lies,how the store people and particularly the part time help,the clerks and assistant managers are treated while their union is helpless!Otherwise you can blog all you want...the votes will never happen in a place like Harrisburg where systemic corruption is a way of life and there is never enough money for fast Eddie and his boys to play with while all the rest of us are expected to sacrifice and suffer and hemmorage revenue...to work for no paycheck even...or be a state store clerk and be trampled and pummeled,insulted and mauled while breaking our backs and driving to work in blizzards,risking our lives because someone might need a pint of vodka and might be pissed if they don't get it...then being told that we must be"educated" by the state in the art of customer service... only to learn that a lucrative contract for this ridiculous idea was awarded to the husband of a regional managers company with all other bids rejected....it's called solutions 21 and it's for assholes. Oh well, thanks for letting me vent...I could write so much more but I'm only here to tell you that indentured servitude under 17th century working conditions is alive and well in the US of A... there are worse jobs I suppose....coal mining and slaughter house work comes to mind but I will end here and say this place combines the worst elements of public service and government work imaginable.