Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Privatization as the 800 pound gorilla

The Morning Call's John Micek posted in his Capitol Ideas blog today about the PLCB's annual budget presentation to the Legislature, and noted that "...more than one lawmaker on the panel said they didn’t want to dwell on the potential privatization of the 70-year-old agency. But here’s the thing about 800-pound gorillas: They’re awfully hard to ignore."

Seems that the legislators said they didn't want to dwell on it, and then did just that, including this beautiful sentiment:
“I hear you saying that you want to be more like a private business. That begs the question of why not just privatize like 31 other states,” Appropriations Committee Chairman Jake Corman, R-Centre, told agency officials as they wrapped up their appearance.
Kinda reminds you of the PLCB's argument that their wine kiosks are soooo convenient...until you compare them to just picking a bottle off the shelf at the grocery store and putting in in the cart with your pork chops and eggplant.

Then came the "we'd be great if you'd just give us the freedom to really swing" plea from PJ Stapleton:

The board’s chairman, Patrick J. Stapleton, told lawmakers that the agency is seeking legislative remedies that would give it greater flexibility on pricing and hiring practices.
Right now, the agency is constrained in the discounts it can offer on certain products and civil service rules have hamstrung its ability to “put the right person in the right job,” Stapleton told legislators. [Of course, those civil service rules are mostly in place to prevent rampant patronage; why's the PLCB so hot to circumvent them?]
“We’ve endeavored to create a world-class business operation,” he said. “Unfortunately, we’re limited in certain respects by [state law].”

Call me crazy, but I have a strong feeling that it would be much easier to simply do away with The State Store System than to tweak hell out of The Almighty Liquor Code to allow "a world-class business operation." But if you don't believe me, here's the PLCB's 'secret plan' to fix things so we'll never ever see privatization rear its ugly head again. Please note the bond issue, which would borrow against the next 20 years of PLCB "profits" to blow a chunk of bucks into the state's budget now...effectively guaranteeing that no legislator would bring up privatization for 20 years, because then they'd have to pay off the bond: brilliant!

Why is the State Store System so resilient, why does it still hang on? 

  • The unionized staff comes out en masse against privatization, always has (and brags about it), and is joined by their union brothers and sisters. They're just getting warmed up this time around.
  • The personally offensive state monopoly (you're not allowed to buy booze anywhere else and bring it into PA) is a lot easier to maintain with a state system.
  • It brings in a buncha bucks, because the state's Leaning Tower of Booze Taxes is so much more oppressive than in other states (tip of the hat to PLCB Users Group creator Nathan Lutchansky for pointing that out (not, of course, in the form of a "diatribe," like I do here) and actually doing a better job than I did: turns out I missed some charges), and the PLCB and the union have done a fantastic job in convincing you that they bring in all that money, when it's really the state's tax laws that bring in most of it...and would continue to do so in a private system.
  • People (voters) still believe that it's actually effective in making the state safer, despite evidence to the contrary; hell, the PLCB's own bi-annual report admits that PA is not really that different from other states in negative drinking issues. 
This is our best shot in years. Don't blow it. This is not about Wisconsin, this is not union-busting, this is not about Republicans vs. Democrats. This is about a patronizing system of state control, a Stalinist system of government-owned retail that never should have started, and should have died a relatively natural death decades ago. It's a zombie, and it's long past time to shoot it in the head.

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