Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Modernization wouldn't do what the consumer wants

We've been told that what the State Stores, the PLCB, and the whole police-enforced monopoly really needs is a good dose of "modernization." No need to dismantle this freak of nature; just "modernize" it!

Hey, how about some perks?
Let's look at one part of “modernization,” Direct Wine Shipping, and see what is being offered compared to what Pennsylvania citizens really want. Representative Costa said recently that direct shipping would be, and I quote, a “perk” for consumers. Why after all this time do the politicians and PLCB even care about direct wine shipping? Is it because they suddenly thought it would be good for consumers? No, it is because the Supreme Court Of The United States told them they had to allow all wineries, in-state and out, the same freedom in shipping. That was the Granholm decision, almost NINE YEARS ago, and our legislature still can’t comply. Strictly speaking, in my opinion, the failure of the legislature pretty much means it is currently legal to have wine shipped to your door since the section of the PA liquor code imposing restriction was deemed illegal and therefore unenforceable.

Representative Costa, 8 years later, decided he wants to support direct wine shipping and the bill he co-sponsored (HB 121) lists a fair amount of requirements to allow that in PA. Here are some of them.

(1) File an application with the board.
(2) Pay a one hundred dollar ($100) registration fee.
(3) Provide to the board a true copy of the applicant's current alcoholic beverage license issued by the board or another state, if applicable.
(4) Provide documentation to the board which evidences that the applicant has obtained a sales tax license from the Department of Revenue.
(5) Provide the board with any other information that the board deems necessary and appropriate.

Now that doesn’t seem too bad. But read on.

(6) Each month, the board shall publish on the Internet a list of all classes, varieties and brands of wine available for sale in the Pennsylvania Liquor Stores (Apparently all that money on rebranding was wasted, just like we said; if your own pet legislator can't even remember it, what's the point?). A person holding a direct shipper license may ship only those classes, varieties and brands of wine not included on the list at the time an Internet order is placed.
(7) Not ship more than nine liters per month on the Internet order of any person in this Commonwealth
(8) On a quarterly basis, pay to the Department of Revenue all taxes due on sales to residents of this Commonwealth
(9) Report to the board each year the total of wine shipped [into] to residents of this Commonwealth in the preceding calendar year.
(10) Permit the board, the enforcement bureau or the Secretary of Revenue, or their designated representatives, to perform an audit of the [out-of-State] direct wine shipper's records upon request.
(11) Annually renew its license by paying a renewal fee established by the board. (Unknown amount at the time of publication)
(12) A direct shipper may ship wine on the [Internet] order of a resident into this Commonwealth provided that the wine is shipped to a Pennsylvania Liquor Store selected by the resident.

So what we get is "direct shipping" to a State Store, not directly to the customer, and on top of that they want to track what and how much you buy. PA's own little spy network. That is not what the citizens want, no matter how the good representative tries to spin it.

That leads to situations like Arthur David Goldman accused of illegally selling wines not available in PA, providing the goods and services that the PLCB either couldn’t wouldn’t or was too incompetent to provide. Why? Because there hasn’t been any resolution in Pennsylvania of the Granholm decision. If people were able to direct ship then there wouldn’t be the market for somebody to fill with wines not available in the PA system.

How about we do reciprocal shipping, the same way other goods are done within the framework of interstate commerce? We don’t charge unnecessary fees or taxes to out of state wineries whose states don’t charge us any unnecessary fees or taxes. In-state wineries would benefit from increased sales, consumers would benefit because more out of state wineries would decide to ship to PA since they wouldn’t have to go through all the mickey mouse steps that Mr. Costa wants and after all this time PA would finally be in compliance with the Granholm decision.

Direct wine shipping is about 2% of total wine sales except here in PA where it is about nil. Privatizing and removing the PLCB from the equation results in a system that truly benefits the consumer.

We don’t want “perks.” We don’t want crumbs offered by poor half-hearted measures designed to placate and not really improve. We want and deserve better then what is being offered. Read HB 121 for yourself and decide if this is really the direct shipping you want or if a free and private system would do a better job.

Privatization IS Modernization – Accept nothing less.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

I’m a hater

Or at least that is what one pro-PLCB representative called me and he is right: I hate a lot of things about the PLCB. I’ll start off with these two dozen or so and you can add your own in the comments.

Oh PLCB, how do I hate thee, let me count the ways.
  • I hate going to the state stores.
  • I hate that they don't have what I want.
  • I hate that most of the time I can't order it.
  • I hate that if they do have something it is usually more expensive.
  • I hate that Philadelphians (or any Pennsylvanian, for that matter) don't have legal access to anything approaching the selection of Joe Canal's, Moore Brothers, Total Wine, BevMo, and a host of others.
  • I hate that even the PLCB's buyers know so little about brown spirits.
  • I hate that the so called 'wine specialists' don’t work standard hours; say noon to eight when most customers could use them.
  • I hate that the state cheats its own citizens by not allowing liter size bottles to be sold everywhere.
  • I hate that the alcoholic's best friends -- the mini, the half pint and the pint bottle -- are cheap in PA, but the 1.75L bottles are 99% of the time more expensive.
  • I hate that a manager can’t even set up the stores they manage to best suit their customer base, but have to follow the forms sent by Harrisburg that tell them where every bottle has to be placed.
  • I hate that the PLCB doesn’t even figure that out themselves, they hire an out of state firm to do that for them. 
  • I hate it when the union says that five West Virginia counties lost all service when they privatized...but don’t tell you people in those counties still don’t have to drive as far as residents of the 20 PA counties that have only one or two State Stores.
  • I hate that while Gross From Sales  has increased 75% since 2000, contribution to the PSB only went up 49%, contribution to Drug and Alcohol education only went up 60%, and that in this "record year" the total contribution from sales is less than the average of the past 14 years.
  • I hate wine kiosks and the very idea of wine kiosks; anybody who had a hand in insulting the consumer in that way should have been fired.  
  • I hate that the three members of the actual liquor control board worked only 21 days last year.
  • I hate that they need a $150,000 babysitter because the board can’t manage to work more than 22 days this year.
  • I hate that somehow the PLCB thinks that the alcohol in beer is different than the alcohol in wine or whiskey.
  • I hate that I can’t get a case discount to try and mitigate the usually crappy prices.
  • I hate that people think the state stores are a cash cow when in reality the non-tax contribution is under 3/10ths of 1 percent of the budget.
  • I hate it when we are told that PA has the lowest incidence of underage buying when the state stores are never checked for compliance.
  • I hate that the PLCB spends more on advertising than education. Just what are they actually trying to do?  Make sure young people know what to buy once they are 21?
  • I hate it that the union thinks one poll counters four decades of polling that show the citizens want to be rid of the state stores.
  • I hate that the PLCB thinks convenience has gone up after closing 20% of its stores.
  • I hate that the PLCB keeps spending money to rename the State Stores.  No matter what they call them they are still going to be State Stores.
  • I hate that some cube rat or committee in Harrisburg decides what an entire state is allowed to buy.
  • I hate that the PLCB online inventory has hundreds, if not thousands, of mistakes in spelling or placement making it far more difficult for the consumer than other online retailers.
  • I hate that I live as far away from New Jersey and Delaware as I do.
  • I hate that after 80 years we are still discussing what the majority of the states have already figured out.
To show I’m not all bad I loved Joe Conti.  He was so incompetent that I wondered if he was secretly working for privatization.

Privatization IS Modernization and government control of retail is Socialism.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Numbers Game

The latest news is that the  PLCB hired an acting executive director to oversee operations.  This is the same guy that oversaw storing extra wine in trailers in the summer as the Director of Supply Chain. Maybe if the board worked more than 21 days a year (2013) they wouldn’t need a $150K babysitter.

NEWS FLASH! The Board is going to work 22 mostly half days in 2014.  That will surely improve things.

On to the reason of the post today.  I heard The Numbers Game by Thievery Corporation on the radio and that got me thinking about the PLCB and their numbers. Somehow Thievery Corporation and PLCB just meshed….weird how that is.

In 2008 and 2011 the PLCB did a survey about border bleed and buyers habits.  Seems like that time should be coming around again.  This time I have a suggestion for them.  Drive to New Jersey, ask nicely of the store owner or manager of Joe Canal’s or Moore Brothers if you can survey the people in their parking lot and then survey all of the PA plates you want, I’m certain you won’t have any problem finding a few hundred or more any day of the week. Who knows, one might be mine.  Do the same in Delaware with Total Wine and in Maryland. This way you get people who are actually buying not just saying they are buying to a survey taker.

Take all that info and then compare it to all those zip codes you bother the crap out of consumers to collect, add up what they spent with all the other out of state receipts and then tell us how bad the border bleed is. Some of your workers are frothing at the mouth on the internet saying how many Canadians, New Yorkers, Ohioans, Marylanders and West Virginians are coming by the bus and ship load to buy here in PA.  You have the numbers so tell us.  

I think since you never have said a word about positive border bleed it really is inconsequential no matter how good you say the stores are or how much you think the prices are competitive.  I think it is so bad as to be embarrassing compared to what leaves PA which is why you have never done it.  Here is your chance to strike a blow for socialist liquor control.  Prove to us how good it is or tell us what we already know – that the people really don’t like or want the state store system and would rather buy from a free market store than a government controlled store.  Maybe the new guy can take this ball and run with it. Just don’t wait too long, you don’t have that much time left.

Privatization IS Modernization and NOW is the time.

Monday, January 13, 2014

When the leadership is clueless….the followers are clueless.

I can understand that there are a number of PLCB workers who may not have the time or the inclination to fully pay attention to everything that is going on with privatization and that they depend on those above them to provide information in condensed form.  However, when the leadership either doesn’t know or is flat out lying it is then that we see the re-education camps really have them brainwashed.  To wit, this is a quote from the Director of Collective Bargaining for UFCW 23 James "Bryan" Bond:

“We have the most selection, best stores, and knowledgeable sales folks in comparison to any other state on this side of the US. We are number 2 in sales out of all 50 states, and the safest state for not selling to minors. The huge profits benefit all people who live here. If that profit goes away, wait until you see your future home tax bills. Don't believe me? That's what Washington State did and they are sorry about it now.”

It seems that Mr. Bond has never been out of state and seen Moore Brothers, Total Wine, Buy-Rite, Binny’s or any number of other stores that absolutely dwarf the selection of the largest PLCB store. Even if he means what can be ordered those other stores will order things for you too so at best it might be a tie but I personally doubt it.

Best stores is a personal opinion so maybe he really believes that but as far as the knowledgeable sales folks compared to all east of the Mississippi he has to be dreaming.  There are multiple stores in New York alone that have Sommeliers on staff while the PLCB has or had one as a consultant.

Being #2 in sales out of all 50 states.  California is certainly #1 but does he honestly think that PA sells more alcohol in total than NY, Texas, Florida and Illinois? Guess what – they don’t.  Maybe he means that PA is #2 in control states which they may be. I’ll give him #2 of the 17 control states but not of all 50 states.

The safest state for selling to minors.  Since none, not a single one* of the PA state stores, are checked for underage sales his crystal ball must know something we don’t.  Other control states range from 92-95% age compliance so PA is probably somewhere in there too. That doesn’t keep PA from having a higher underage binge drinking rate and underage DUI rate than most of our border states though.

Now for those huge profits that total under 3/10ths of 1 percent of the state budget. He is saying that if that goes away your local community will raise your home tax bills which I think means property tax.  Why or how he thinks these are tied together I can’t figure out. To finish he adds that this is what Washington state did when they did no such thing.  Housing prices or property taxes didn’t change one bit because of liquor privatization.  The two aren’t related in any way shape or form.

Like any other post put on a public forum (including mine) it is subject to scrutiny and fact checking but even more so when it comes from a person in a leadership position.  In this case Mr. Bond needs to go back and be re-educated again.

(* According to Stacey Witalec, then Director of External Affairs at the PLCB: "... because our stores are not licensed establishments, BLCE does not perform compliance checks in them.")

Privatization IS Modernization.  Accept nothing less.