Thursday, May 26, 2016

BEER IN GAS STATIONS!!! No, it's not, and Wolf had nothing to do with it

Everyone's losing their minds because Pennsylvania gas stations can now sell beer, and Governor Wolf made it happen. We saw headlines like this (exclamations added..):

Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board Approves 6-Pack Sales At Gas Stations!
Pa. Liquor Control Board allows gas stations to sell 6-packs!
Gas and brews: Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board approves beer sales at gas stations!
Pennsylvania Finally Catches Up With The Rest Of America, Legalizes Selling Six-Packs Of Beer At Gas Stations!

No, no, and no. Gas stations near you probably still won't be selling beer (without jumping through ridiculous hoops first) and Governor Wolf had nothing to do with it. It's just one more chunk of pathetic bullshit from Harrisburg, designed to dazzle and placate you and keep your mind off how crappy the booze sales system in this state is. Allow me to explain.

First? This is about nine gas stations in the entire state which bought existing licenses (of various types; that's explained quite well here if you're interested) -- like the supermarkets that are "allowed" to sell beer 12 bottles at a time -- and just wanted to have those licenses approved...because, of course, the Almighty Liquor Code actually "prohibits the sale of liquid fuels or oil by licensees."

Just add beer...sorry, not allowed in Pennsylvania!
So that means that the Board is once again ignoring the law ("The board shall refuse any application for a new license, the transfer of any license to a new location or the extension of any license to cover an additional area where the sale of liquid fuels or oil is conducted"), just like it did last year when it said a 12-pack is a case. ("No distributor or importing distributor shall sell any malt or brewed beverages in quantities of less than a case or original containers containing one hundred twenty-eight ounces or more").

Now, I'm all in favor of ignoring the Almighty Liquor Code myself; I do it all the time by running to NJ for booze. But it's one thing when I do it; it's completely something else when the state regulatory agency in charge of enforcing and interpreting The Almighty Liquor Code is doing it. This kind of arbitrary decision leads to madness and badness.

What kind of badness? Realize this: every time one of these gas stations buys a license, that's a bar license (R license, "deli" license, or a straight-up D distributor license; they're buying whatever they can get their hands on) that's out of circulation for years, not being used as intended. Ordinarily, I'd say, who cares? But this is Pennsylvania, where the number of bar licenses is limited by population: 1 license per 3,000 people per county. Then realize that bar and deli licenses, unlike every other kind of license, can be bought and sold on the open market for whatever the market will bear, and you see that every gas station and supermarket that buys a license makes the price of other licenses higher. And that means fewer start-up bars, more chain restaurants, and more high-end expensive bars...and more bars that are likely to try to sell as much booze as possible to make that monthly payment on the license. Not good. I wrote about that here. What else? Well, how about...the Board can easily play favorites, because they can decide the next batch of applications don't get approved, and they don't have to give any reason, nor are they bound by precedent...because that's how the PLCB works. Every ruling stands on its own. Period.

It would be much better to have a new license for retail beer sales, without the stupid 12-pack restrictions and separate register foolishness, than to continue to do this workaround. But that would require the Legislature to do something, and that would upset the tavern owners AND the beer distributors...even more than this is.

To my pleased surprise, the decision also was not well-received by the Brewers of Pennsylvania, who responded -- correctly!-- that "To truly “free the six-pack” as Governor Wolf requested from the PLCB, then the future call to action must be to allow six-packs to be sold in many more businesses than just gas stations... To truly achieve consumer convenience as well as provide for a variety of purchasing options for consumers, the BOP highly recommends allowing six-pack sales in all channels of trade. Doing so would immediately benefit all small craft beer producers in Pennsylvania..." BOP president Bill Covaleski (of Victory Brewing) told me "the consumer is at the forefront of our thinking. We are headed in the direction of the consumer, we need them to tell us where that is." He noted that "where that is" clearly seemed to be in every grocery store and convenience store. It's refreshing to see that the brewers get what the Legislature doesn't: the consumers should be considered first, not the special interest groups.

Second? Once again, this is about nine gas stations in the entire state. It does NOT mean "gas stations can sell sixpacks." You won't be seeing beer at every Wawa anytime soon, especially not in southeast Pennsylvania, because bar licenses are really freakin' expensive here; like around $400,000 in Montgomery County. So why is everyone so excited? Because Governor Wolf made a big deal about this.
Yay me! I wroted a letter!
Third? What does Governor Wolf have to do with it? Nothing but shameless self-promotion, that's what. Wolf heard that the PLCB was about to vote on these applications, and like everyone else in Harrisburg, he knew the PLCB was likely to say yes. So he sent them a letter asking them to do that as a favor to his friends, the people of Pennsylvania, and then made a big stinking deal out of it when they approved the applications. As a friend of mine said, tomorrow Wolf will send out a press release predicting the sun's gonna rise in the east, and he'll be two for two!

Did anyone know Wolf was a big supporter of "free the six pack"? No, you didn't, because "Free the six pack" was just something Wolf hitched his wagon to the day before the PLCB was going to approve these piddling nine applications. He's an opportunistic fraud.

To recap: not much has changed; Wolf had nothing to do with it; and this is still a terrible way to change things. As I've said for years, the arbitrary nature of the PLCB and the byzantine impenetrability of the Almighty Liquor Code make for an ever-worsening situation here.

So when you don't see beer at your local gas station...remember this, will ya? And tell your legislators to Rewrite The Code, with you in mind, not the unions and the beer distributors and the tavern owners and the convenience stores and Pat Deon. It's the only way we'll ever change this.


Albert Brooks said...

Dear Republican House Members,

There, this should take the pressure off that silly privatization idea you have. I fixed beer.


Tom Wolf,

Anonymous said...

I am a bit surprised this blog is call "Why the PLCB Should Be Abolished" and not "Here Is Another BLOG To Bash Democrats". I guess there are so many of the latter that it would get lost in the ether, sort of like spitting in a lake. I read a few of your earlier posts and when PA had a GOP House, Senate, and Governor it was the Democrats that prevented liquor privatization. Now it is the Democratic Governor that is preventing privatization. Increased access to alcohol is not your issue, but it is yet another straw man for promoting a Right Wing agenda. Smooth!

Lew Bryson said...

Don't be more foolish than you have to be. I can put your mind at ease right away: read this post. I tag a senior GOP Senator as the #1 enemy of liquor privatization. Back in 2013, I tore into the GOP-dominated Senate for killing privatization. I've ripped House Speaker Mike Turzai for a poor grasp on political leadership, something I also ripped Tom Corbett for. Governor Wolf gets his due: he vetoed a privatization bill. He's fair game. If Democrats in the Legislature were more effective, I'd rip them; as it is, they're obviously ignoring their constituents on this issue, and deserve some smacking around.

People who've read this blog for more than a few weeks, have read more than "a few of your earlier posts," know that the ONLY issue of this blog is exactly what it says: ending the state's liquor and wine monopoly, and rewriting the Liquor Code to bring Pennsylvania into the 21st Century in alcohol policy. I am not anti-union, I am not right wing, I am not anti-Democrat. I am against any policy or action by any group, party, or person that is in favor of keeping the monopoly or not advancing liberalization of the state's liquor laws.

It's just that simple. If the State Stores are abolished, and we get beer in c-stores and grocery stores without the kludgey workarounds exposed in this current post, I will very happily shut down this blog. I may then start another one about merging the Turnpike Commission into PENNDOT, but that's in the future; one cause at a time.

Progressives are along for the ride, as are conservative, pro-growth, pro-urban, libertarian, and industry groups, and they're all welcome.

Albert Brooks said...

If we are promoting a right wing agenda then you must have the secret decoder ring to decipher what that agenda is. So please tell us what agenda we are pushing since you have it all figured out. Link to any post that doesn't pertain to liquor privatization but to the secret right wing agenda that only you can see. We'll wait as it should take you some time to read all 440+ posts to make sure you found all of them. Make sure you read the multiple posts about Scarnati (Republican), Conti (Republican), McIllhinny (Republican), DiGirolamo (Republican) and others. Find me a PA Independent in the legislature that favors the PLCB and I'll write about him (or her) too.