Friday, February 15, 2013

The Big Lies

Pro-PLCB arguments, fresh from the source
Updated 2/16/13: see last point

Privatization is on the way again, so this of course means that the anti-privatization forces will be beating the drums to keep things just the insufferable way they are, headed by UFCW Local 1776 President (for life) Wendell W. Young IV and every Democrat in the Pennsylvania Legislature, assisted by an unholy alliance of State Store clerks, beer distributors, teetotalers, social conservatives, and unaffiliated union members.

What that also means is that the same ludicrous lies will be trotted out in defense of the indefensible (see my recent post on Joe Da Ex-CEO Conti below). I can predict what will be said like I can predict the rising of the sun; these guys are nothing if not reliable in what they have to say, and they always, always stick to the script. Therefore, as a public service, I've undertaken to tell you what the Big Lies will be, why they're Big Lies, and how you can respond to them. If someone says them to your face, politely rebut them. If someone says them in a letter to the editor, write a response (not a comment on the newspaper's website: even fewer people read them than read the letters in the paper!). If someone uses them in an article or television story, SEND AN EMAIL IMMEDIATELY to correct them. You can't win if you don't say anything. We CAN win this, with the truth.

The $500 Million Lie: The PLCB makes $500 million in profits every year that goes into the State's General Fund. All of that money will be lost if the State Stores are privatized!
  •  The Truth: This is a multi-part lie. First, of the roughly $500 million that wine and spirits sales (I'm going to refer to "wine and spirits" as "booze" from now on to save time) bring to the General Fund in a year, about $400 million of it is taxes. Those taxes will continue to come in; no change in that is proposed. (The pro-monopoly group will tell you private businesses don't pay their taxes: if that's true, then it's a much broader problem than just booze sales. Fix it at the Department of Revenue level.) Second, the remainder isn't actually "profit." The Legislature tells the PLCB how much it's going to "contribute," and they come up with it. If it's "profit," fine; if they don't have enough, they come up with it elsewhere, by selling assets, for instance. Finally, if privatization is done right (and the Corbett Plan is close), border bleed will decline significantly as people in southeastern Pennsylvania don't feel the need to cross the border to get better selection, service, and prices...which in turn will mean more taxes coming in, an estimated $140 million. Of course, the big lie is that all of that revenue will go away. It won't, not even a significant part of it. 
The 5,000 Jobs Lost Lie: If the State Stores are privatized, 5,000 "family-sustaining" jobs will be lost. Privatization will create no jobs, all sales will be absorbed by "big box stores" and grocery stores with no additional jobs.
  • The Truth: Up-front: this is the toughest point. These are real people, and it's been the hardest thing to deal with: how do we see them back into the workforce? That said...we're not talking about 5,000 full-time jobs. There are around 3,200 full-time jobs involved. The rest are part-time and seasonal, hardly "family-sustaining." Also, while most grocery stores and big box stores will simply add the stocking of beer and wine to their current staff, with a bare minimum of staff added for purchase and selection, there are going to be 1,200 "all-alcohol" licenses under the Corbett Plan, twice as many booze licenses as there are now. Total Wine has said they'll be building stores in PA, and you can be sure that Canal's and Roger Wilco won't want to miss out. No jobs created? Pull the other leg. Will the jobs pay as well as the State Store jobs, with the benefits and pension? Probably not, because jobs in retail don't pay like that in the real world. The union will argue that they should, but the reality is that the union is doing nothing to use these jobs as leverage to improve the lot of average retail workers; they are an isolated island, restricted to those lucky enough to get one of these jobs. They are an anomaly. And when the system is abolished, there will be early retirement packages, there will be preferences for other state jobs, there will be training.
The Union-busting Lie: This is really about busting the union/really about privatizing every government function/really about anything other than doing away with this relic of Prohibition.
  • The Truth: Privatization of the liquor stores is favored by over half of self-identifying "liberal Democrats" in the State, according to a recent poll. They clearly recognize that this is a unique case, a government agency that never should have had "control" of booze retail. It is not at all about busting the union (and it has nothing to do with the Governor's desire to privatize the lottery without the approval of the Legislature); it's about getting the government out of retail. The same agency should not be selling alcohol with an eye to maximum revenue, while at the same time "controlling" alcohol sales to "protect" the citizens. This also leads to the PLCB being the major regulator of its main competition: Pennsylvania's wholesale and retail beer business. Two clear conflicts of interest; privatization frees the agency to effectively regulate retail alcohol beverage sales.
The Control Lie: State control of wine and spirits sales keeps Pennsylvania's citizens safer than private sales could. 
  • The Truth: In underage drinking, in DUI, in deaths attributable to alcohol, Pennsylvania's rank is only average; at best, on the high side of average. There may be a few categories where Pennsylvania does well, but it's a "cherry-picking" proposition; really, we don't do any better than the surrounding states, which have private sales. Control is ineffective, and anyone could guess that: "control" is only imposed on off-premise wine and spirits sales, not on-premise "by the drink" sales, and not on any beer sales. Those sales are all private. 
The Underage ID Lie: State Stores are the best defense against underage sales; employees check over a million IDs every year.
  • The Truth: First, we only have the PLCB's word for this. The police are not allowed to conduct "sting" operations in the State Stores, as they are in bars and beer distributors. These numbers are all self-reported. Second, the State Stores don't even do as good a job as Wegmans. The New York-based supermarket chain requires an ID for every single sale of alcohol. They will not sell you as much as a sixpack of beer without swiping your ID through an electronic reader, no matter how old you are. The State Stores don't ID on every sale. Finally, research shows, over and over, that underage drinkers get the vast majority of their booze from family and friends, and from using fake IDs in bars...not by purchasing over the counter in stores. This is a very small problem, and private sellers are already on top of it. Corbett's plan includes carding for every sale. 
The Liquor Store On Every Corner Lie: Privatization will bring a seedy liquor store on every corner. Wendell W. Young IV has said it, and legislators have repeated it.  
  • The Truth: First, they'll also tell you that all the licenses will go to "big box" stores: guess they don't really know what's going to happen. Second, competition will keep that from happening; a community can only support so many stores selling the same products. You don't see a gas station on every corner, or a coffeeshop on every corner. The very idea of a liquor store "on every corner" is ridiculous on the face of it; an obvious scare tactic. Third, local zoning laws will still be in effect. This is perhaps the hollowest of the Lies.
The Windfall Lie: Corbett says this will bring a $1 billion windfall. Last year they said it would be $2 billion. When (insert state that is nothing like Pennsylvania here) privatized, they only got (insert small number here). Why sell an asset?
  • The Truth: It doesn't matter what the number is. The State Stores aren't worth anything, except for the value of the inventory and the fixtures. The stores are all leased, as are the warehouses. The monopoly is the only thing worth money, and honestly, it never should have existed. Corbett's plan will make a large sum of money, and continue to bring in more every year. And it's all gravy, above the continuing flow of revenue from liquor taxes and sales taxes. What is the asset that we are supposed to own? A patronizing, annoying monopoly that would be illegal if it weren't for a traditionally overactive interpretation of the 21st Amendment.
The Rural Deprivation Lie: Only the PLCB supplies the state's rural areas with a full selection of wines and spirits; private stores won't go to those areas because they won't make enough money, and Pennsylvanians will have to drive 50 miles to buy wine and spirits.
  • The Truth: First, and foremost, it is not the function of government to supply rural Pennsylvanians with booze, anymore than it is to run a jobs program called the State Stores. The very idea is laughable. Second, has anyone had a look at the job the PLCB is doing supplying rural Pennsylvania now? Take a look at some of the rural counties: Adams: 1 store. Bedford: 2 stores (one of which is open 3 days a week, from 11 to 6). Cameron: 1 store. Clinton: 1 store. Columbia: 2 stores. Elk: 2 stores. Forest: 2 stores. Fulton: 1 store. Greene: 2 stores. Huntingdon: 2 stores. Juniata: 1 store. Mifflin: 1 store. Montour: 1 store (okay, that one's not so shocking!). Perry: 2 stores. Pike: 2 stores. Potter 2 stores. Snyder: 1 store. Sullivan: 1 store. Union: 2 stores. Wyoming: 1 county. That's 20 counties with 2 or fewer stores. What kind of rural service is that? Now...under Corbett's plan, these counties will get as many all-alcohol licenses as there are state stores, or as many as there are beer distributors, whichever is more. They may tell you that no one will take the risk of paying for the license, that they can't make enough in bucolic PA to pay it off. But remember: the demand for spirits at taverns in those counties would almost certainly mean that an all-alcohol license would indeed be profitable enough for someone to take that risk. And the proposal allows wine sales at supermarkets, restaurants and taverns, and "big box stores," which means wine would be much more available in these counties. Third, selection? Ever seen the "selection" at rural grocery stores? It ain't like Whole Foods, and people who live in the country are used to that. Private stores will stock in response to local requests and needs, instead of the top-down inventory currently imposed from Harrisburg with no attention paid to local preferences. This is a bogus point: things aren't that great now, and they'll actually get better. 
Got any more lies? Bring 'em on, we'll take them, and tell the truth.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

New in-depth poll shows solid support for privatization

Today, the Commonwealth Foundation (a pro-business, conservative/libertarian Harrisburg policy group) released results from a poll they commissioned from Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates, a public opinion research group based in Santa Monica. I'd note from the beginning that FM3 does scientific polling, and is a group that mostly works with Democratic political candidates (almost exclusively, as you can see from this client list). CF president Matt Brouillette took pains to point that out, explaining that they didn't want an easy poll from a supportive group, they wanted an honest result.  I got an invite to attend a briefing on the polling data last night, and it was an interesting evening.(The highlights are presented in a slideshow here.)

In the last week of January 2013, FM3 polled 800 randomly-selected PA registered voters (using both cell and landline phones), then did an "oversampling" of more extensive interviews with 200 voters in the "outer Philadelphia market," essentially the southeast part of the state without Philadelphia County itself. Their research found some of the strongest support for privatization in that part of the state, and they wanted to look at what made up that support.

Enough about how the poll was done. Overall, 41% strongly favored ending state-run liquor stores, 19% "somewhat favored" it. 20% strongly opposed, 14% "somewhat opposed." 61% in favor, 35% opposed, 5% don't know/no answer. Note that there was a much lower "don't know" response than in the recent F&M poll that found 53% in favor. The pollster noted that in the F&M poll, the privatization question was a much simpler one (do you favor privatization of the liquor stores), and it immediately followed the question about the very unpopular privatization of the state lottery, which likely had an effect.

In the polled folks' own words, and in descending order, the strongest reasons for supporting privatization: less government regulation (which surprised me); convenience/buying beer/wine in supermarkets; 'keeping up' with other states/seen it work in other states (the pollster noted a kind of competitive spirit here, people feeling that the state was behind the other states in this aspect); better prices (note: this is fourth on the list); private enterprise is better; more choices/variety; more money for local economy; waste of tax dollars; ability to have booze shipped to home (way down the list...). Other reasons had 2% support or less.

Another interesting point: I've always complained that newspaper articles ask the people who are actually shopping in the LCB stores if they're satisfied. If they weren't, they'd be in Maryland, I always thought. Well...the poll asked how often people purchased from the State Stores. Support for privatization was strongest (77%!) among the most frequent purchasers! I suspect this is probably the people who are not close to a border; because those of us who are generally are buying across that border... The strongest opposition to privatization -- in fact, the ONLY group of people asked this question who opposed privatization -- is among people who admit that they NEVER purchase anything at the State Stores. Teetotalers and anti-alcohol types, in other words. Only 35% support privatization.

Geographic breakdown? The ONLY area opposed to privatization is Philadelphia County, 50% opposed, 46% in favor. Allegheny County: 69% in favor. "Outer Philadelphia" as explained above: 66% in favor. "The T," that part of the state left after carving out the southwest and southeast corners, made famous by James Carville in his characterization of Pennsylvania as "Philadelphia and Pittsburgh with Alabama in between": a surprising 62% in favor! Northeast PA: 59% in favor. I talked to a representative from the T area who was at the event, whose district was not one I'd expect to support privatization for social conservative reasons. "They're rednecks," he said, "redneck libertarians." We could be seriously over-estimating the opposition to this.

What else? Well, there's very little gender split: 62% of men and 60% of women support it. The older a voter is, the less-likely they are to support privatization: in all age groups but the oldest, a majority support it (75+ year olds only support it by 49%, but only 42% are opposed). Party affiliation: support is strongest among Independents -- 71% -- and Republicans -- 69% -- but even 52% of Democrats support it. Surprisingly, support was stronger among self-identified liberal Democrats, which I think shows the truth of what I've been saying: this is not a classic privatization issue; this is not really a union issue. This is about correcting a mistake.

Union members? 52% of union members support privatization, and 58% of people in union households support it. That's compared to 61% in non-union households; almost within margin of error.

But possibly the most interesting and promising takeaway from the poll is what happened when people were presented with arguments against privatization after making their initial response. The pollster said that support for a proposition usually melts a bit after arguments against it are presented; 10-15% is normal. I'll remind you: overall, the support for privatization at the initial question was 61%. After hearing only the supporters' arguments, 61% still favored it. After hearing only the opponent's arguments -- which were essentially the UFCW talking points as presented by Wendell W. Young IV --
61% still favored privatization. And after hearing both sets of arguments, support was at 62%.

The weakest opposition argument was no surprise: people reacted very negatively to the "we should modernize rather than privatize" proposition. Only 19% found that credible, and those who did not were quite firm about it.

Is privatization an important issue for people, one that will influence how they vote for governor or legislator based on how the incumbent voted? No, it is not. Under 20% felt that strongly on either side of the issue. But...that means while there is not much upside for a politician voting for privatization, there is also very little downside on voting for privatization. There is not an army of social conservative voters, or a horde of angry union voters, who will vote out of office anyone who votes for privatization.

To sum up: about 61% of Pennsylvanians are in favor of privatization, a number that has been consistent for decades. The only group in the state that is opposed are Philadelphia voters, and even there, it's a narrow divide: 50% opposed, 46% in favor.

We had a chance to ask the pollster questions, and Matt Brouillette asked a good one. "If you had been hired by [UFCW president] Wendell W. Young, what would you advise as a strategy after presenting these results to him?" And the pollster, from the firm that has worked mostly for Democratic candidates, done polling for AFSCME, for the Sierra Club, for the California School Employee Association...said, "I'd say cut a deal."

This is NOT a done deal. This proposal needs work, and especially needs to get buy-in from the beer industry. But I feel a lot better after hearing these results. The work begins.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Conti's Gone, But Still Lyi -- Getting His Numbers Wrong

I'm 95% opposed to privatization!
We've seen how Joe Da Ex-CEO Conti has consistently misrepresented the facts. He said that privatization would end tax revenues; we all know they wouldn't. He said that border bleed was minimal, less than 2% of total sales; the PLCB's own report on border bleed showed it was greater. He said that the PLCB's own review committee approved the wine kiosk program; the PLCB's press secretary had to admit (the same day) that they had, in fact, advised rejecting the program. He fulminated against privatization as PLCB CEO, exclaiming what a bad idea it was; yet as a Pennsylvania legislator he co-sponsored a bill to privatize the state liquor stores...and now denies it.

So when I saw this 2012 interview quoted today in the Shanken News Daily e-letter, I suspected something might be...Contified about it. Here's what Conti said last January about privatization:
In polls, 50%-60% of Pennsylvanians favor deregulation. Back in the ’80s and ’90s, there was much more public support—around 95%—for deregulation. So there’s not the enthusiasm we saw 20 or 30 years ago. That’s thanks to the PLCB’s various initiatives over the years.
As someone just emailed me, I should have been suspicious when I saw "95%". Politicians didn't get numbers like that in Soviet Russia. Sure enough...Joe's lying again. Oh, hell, okay, he's misremembering, whatever you want to call it. Because here's one poll result (an exit poll of 3,223 primary voters) I found from 1986, in an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer, and it doesn't even come close to 95%:
By slim margins, voters who answered exit polls in Tuesday's primary election said they favored replacing the state-run system of liquor stores with privately operated stores, but they were opposed to legalizing casino gambling in Pennsylvania.
The Teichner poll showed that 54 percent of voters shared Scranton's viewpoint and 46 percent wanted to preserve State Stores. That split was reflected along party lines, with most Democrats favoring the status quo and most Republicans supporting change.
Just to cover both's another one that's quite a bit shy of "95%", from a 1995 Inquirer article:
According to surveys of more than 1,700 people by Mansfield University, two out of three Pennsylvanians - and even more Philadelphians - would rather switch to a free-market liquor system.
Damn, Joe! You did it again! Nice to know the guy's consistent, but holy crap, lying that boldly in a nationally-published interview? I mean, 95% in favor, and the Legislature voted it down? Were we supposed to believe that? So really, support for privatization has been pretty damned consistent for the last 30 years -- and the Legislature has done nothing about it.
By the way..."thanks to the PLCB's various initiatives over the years" takes on a whole new meaning in this light, right? Because the numbers in favor of privatization are higher now, hey, Joe? Rockin' that wine kiosk thing, baby! I'm keeping it real, because you know Joe won't...even as the Ex-CEO. Man, he's gonna kick it when he's back to handle the PLCB emergency!

Why do I bother posting this? Because the anti-privatization groups have no compunction about telling whoppers like this...and no one ever questions them. Don't buy the bullshit!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Is This A Look At What Our Privatization Will Look Like?

Governor Corbett has unveiled his plan for privatization, and it's radical in scope, going well beyond last year's mangled piece of legislative committee crap. The Commonwealth Foundation has a good precis of it here, and the Tribune-Review has a better one here, but they don't get all the gimpy little details that are one of my major problems with the Corbett plan.

Actually, before we get to the little things...let's get to the big one: the police-enforced monopoly is still there. For no apparent reason other than to screw with us, there's nothing in here about allowing Pennsylvanians to pick up a bottle of wine on their way home from Baltimore, or New York, or work, for the large number who commute across the Delaware. That's right. Big Daddy in Harrisburg is still going to tell you where you can buy your booze: only in Pennsylvania. Sorry, gotta be blunt: that's un-American bullshit. Laws that tell me I'm not allowed to buy a bottle of gin and bring it home? Don't insult us: FIX THIS!

Now, those little details... The Corbett Plan gets rid of the Case Law, but does it by breaking it up into a bunch of ridiculous NEW limits that are going to have you carrying a card to remind you what you can buy where. The Inquirer explained it like this last week.

Under the plan, retail beer distributors, who now can only sell by the case or keg, could apply for a license to sell the alcohol trifecta: beer, wine, and liquor. Supermarkets could sell a customer up to two six-packs of beer, and up to six bottles of wine. Convenience stores and drugstores? A six-pack to go, no wine. Restaurants and taverns, which can now sell a customer no more than two six-packs of beer, could sell up to six bottles of wine. Big-box stores [Wal-Mart? Target? Home Depot?] would be allowed to sell beer by the case and up to six bottles of wine. In a nod to beer distributors, Corbett's plan would let them apply for "enhanced" licenses, allowing them - for the first time since Prohibition - to sell by the six-pack.
Get all that? Doesn't it just make you want to ask WHY?! Governor, there is no good reason to put limits like this on retail. Just have a beer retail license, and a wine retail license, and allow stores to buy one, the other, or both. Done. And if I want to pay their prices, I go and buy as much or as little as I want. Don't make us do that foolish "buy two, step out, step back, buy two more" dance anymore, it's just ridiculous.

Worst of all, you're compromising with a group that doesn't exist. The social conservatives and MADD don't want supermarkets and convenience stores to sell any wine or beer, so limiting it to half a case and six bottles won't make them any more likely to support this -- or, more aptly, acquiesce to it -- they will hate the whole idea, and still vote no. And if you succeed without them, we'll be stuck with a compromise that did nothing. Drop it.

Jon Geeting of Keystone Politics is passionately progressive and fully supports privatization; we've discussed it and come to large amounts of agreement. He's written some great stuff here and here, and here, where he argues that Corbett's plan is not radical enough, that it needs LESS regulation to open up MORE competition. (That's my kind of Progressive!) He's also in on a gallonage tax to replace the price-based Johnstown Flood Tax, which is another good idea: it makes cheap booze (also known as "wino fuel") more expensive, which would actually do something in the direction of, you know...control.

But I do like some things. Quite a bit, actually. Like this:  
  • The State Stores go away, and the State is no longer the wholesaler! Which means we start to have a LOT more input on what's available for sale.  
  • Taxes don't change. So unlike Washington's greed-driven failure, our prices don't automatically go up (which would be blamed on privatization). 
  • Beer and wine sold in grocery stores. Look, I love my beer distributor. Actually, quite a few of them. Great guys, and they've supplied us with great beer.'s a LOT easier to buy beer and wine in the grocery store. Easy = good.
  • Beer distributors can become all-alcohol stores. And I hope they do. Because I LOVE all-alc stores like Total Wine, and Canal's, and Bev-Mo, and Binny's. Huge selection, smart staff, great extras, full-on booze coolness. I like small specialty places like Park Avenue and Federal and Moore Bros., too: excellent service, the exclusive bottlings only they get. It will take an investment in space and stock and smarts...but it will be worth it. 
  • The number of licenses to sell off-premise spirits doubles. It could be a lot better, but double is pretty good. I'd like to see it double again, but for's one hell of an improvement. 
  • Annual license fees. Because having the State issue the license and someone else make the money drives me crazy. It still costs the licensee, but the State gets it. 
There is room for improvement -- get rid of that police-enforced monopoly! -- but this is the best plan I've seen in my lifetime. Let's go for it.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Joe Conti's Greatest Hits

Joe Da CEO - 12/13/06 -- 2/2/13
Joe Conti's gone, and we're somewhat sorry to see him go. He was, as the alliteration-happy Commonwealth Foundation might put it, The Autocrat of Arrogance, King of The Kiosks, notorious Nabob of Nepotism, and the Duke of (Tone) Deafness. He will be back as a consultant, of course -- he is also the Prince of the Public Trough -- so we have hope that he'll still deliver us a final Endowment of Embarrassment!

In the meantime, here are our most fond memories of Joe Da CEO, and what he did to further the cause of privatization of the State Store System, along with a range of 1-20 points for each incident's CONTI score (that's Corruption, Oblivious-to-Consequences, Nepotism, Thick-Wittedness, and Insider-itis). Plenty of links to the blogposts that describe them too, and I have to say, they're some of my favorites. It was so much fun to rant about Joe Da CEO.

Joe's Job. Conti's CEO position was created out of whole cloth by Governor Ed Rendell, and apparently filled without advertising, without any other candidates being interviewed, and without any real clue on why it was needed. Here's the story. That might explain why Conti seemed to do nothing for the first two years he was in the position (though we were told he spent that time..."planning").
Score: 4. More about Joe, than it is Joe...but the shape of things to come.

Dr. Rendellstein's Monster. This was a minor incident, but one of my favorites, because it illustrated just how overly-independent the PLCB is. Rendell hears about the original TableLeaf "rebranding" idea, and has Conti in to talk about it. "The governor expressed his opinion that the PLCB stores as currently named were recognizable and had a brand value of their own and he strongly discouraged PLCB from attempting to change the names of the stores... The governor was vocal in making his opinion known." Conti recalled the meeting differently. "[Conti] described the meeting with Mr. Rendell as "more a directional discussion" covering a wide range of topics. "The governor was delighted with everything he saw," said Mr. Conti." Just amazing.
Score: 8. A small gem of Continess.

Playing Restaurant Favorites. On Conti's watch: the PLCB opened a mini-winestore inside Garces Trading Company, Jose Garces deli/grocery. Really kind of cool...and really kind of unfair to all the other BYOs in Philly who would love to have a little winestore in-house, but never got asked (except when Conti allegedly offered one to Stephen Starr...see below). No more have opened, and Garces has distanced himself from the concept.
Score: 9. Tone-deaf, but Conti was not too publicly vocal about it. 

TableLeaf. He spent a lot of money on it for no understandable reason: rebranding a legal, police-enforced monopoly? When that got too ugly, he changed his mind and taped it on the front of a PLCB-created "house" wine brand. And then, when people got pissed off that the house brand was deliberately undercutting private winemakers...he lied about it.
Score: 10. Classic Conti characteristics, but a fairly small affair; an extra point for some bold lying. 

Fighting Privatization. Despite noting several times that it wasn't his job to fight privatization -- that was all up to the Legislature! -- Conti spent a lot of public time doing just that. One of the best was during this Legislative hearing, where he did what he does so well. He lied (about how much money privatization would "lose" the State, and about the results of the PLCB's internal review of the wine kiosks), he blustered, he threatened, and he obfuscated...all of it while fighting the idea of privatization, which he said he wasn't there to do.
Score: 11. No corruption, just doing his job. Wait...he said it wasn't his job. It's confusing.  

How many wine kiosks did you want?
The Death of the Wine Kiosks. Almost as much fun as the spectacle of the Wine Kiosks themselves was Conti's complete loss of reality-grip when the The Invincible Wine Robot Army (see below) was finally defeated at the Battle of Wegmans. Faced with total annihilation of his cherished idea, and the utter commercial failure of the misbegotten wine automata, what was Conti's reaction? "It certainly wasn't a failure." "I still think there is merit to the program." "It didn't end up successful, but we learned a lot and we will end up better for it."
Score: 13. Would have been higher, but no nepotism or (detectable) corruption. Just arrogance and stupidity. 

The Courtesy Contract. If you've forgotten...the PLCB let a contract (on a low-ball bid) for "Improving basic customer service skills" to a company run by the husband of a PLCB regional manager. Conti's watch, and he loved it: "This is a vast adventure, and it's one we have to take," he said And the training was ridiculous, probably unnecessary (there was a customer complaint once every 288,000 transactions...), and ineffective: customer complaints actually went up after the training. And Conti decided to continue it. The Auditor General said: "Although this contract was awarded according to the letter of the law, there are several incidents that occurred that raise serious concerns and put the PLCB's procurement procedures in question." Conti's reaction? Vindication. Classic.
Score: 14. No obvious personal corruption. And the nepotism was someone else's... 

The Wine Kiosks (AKA The Invincible Wine Robot Army). The most amazing idea that could never work. Here's a video of just how ridiculous they were in case you'd forgotten:

video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player

Conti oversaw this Carnival of FAIL from the initial flawed idea, through the single-bidder contract (to the completely inexperienced company that was heavy with contributors to Gov. Rendell's campaign), through overriding the advice of a PLCB internal review to reject the idea (which he then lied about to a Legislative hearing) to the bloated execution (which hid costs) and the eventual disaster that was the implementation. You can see most of that here.
Score: 18. Close to perfect, but no obvious nepotism.

Contigate. According to the state Inspector General, Conti accepted Phillies and Union tickets from PLCB vendors and "lobbied" vendors and restaurateur Stephen Starr for a job for his daughter; Conti may also have hinted in the same conversation with Starr that maybe Starr could get one of the sweet in-store PLCB "winebox" pop-up stores like Jose Garces got (and NO ONE ELSE seems to be able to get). And...he was dumb enough (or arrogant enough; your pick) to use his State-issued Blackberry to do the business.  Score: 20. Doesn't get much more Conti than this.

Ah, Joe, was great to have you around. It kept the fight interesting, and kept it fair, too. I mean, it was just 2/3 of the citizens of the Commonwealth vs. the UFCW and the Legislature! But you and your great ideas like the wine kiosks kept us going!

Too bad the PLCB's dumb enough to hire you back at $80 an hour as a consultant. Yeah, really, they are...on an official "emergency" basis. That's a move so dumb you'd almost think it was Joe's... Score: 22.

Friday, February 1, 2013

The New Proposal

Governor Corbett announced his plan for privatization on Wednesday. I want to see more details, but it goes a lot further than Turzai's flawed plan from last year. The 'unlimited' licenses for beer and wine sales alone are a huge boon for consumers, and SHOULD shut up the "all the licenses will go to big box stores, waaaahh!!!" crowd...though it won't, because they can't wait to cloud the issue.

Get the details. Get organized. Let the Governor know you support privatization, and let your legislators know, too. Tell them this is an important issue for you. Because I guarantee you, every State Store employee (and their families) is calling their representative every week to let them know it's an important issue for them, and filling them full of crap statements about jobs, and "profits," and safety, and morality, and all that jazz...all of which doesn't hold up to examination.

I'll lay it out -- I'm back on the job, now that the game is afoot -- and yeah, we'll talk about The Fall Of Conti, too, just for fun, since he's become a non-issue. Sorry to see him go, he was a real poster child for privatization.

Best shot we've had in decades. Make it happen. If you can, join our Facebook page. Thanks!