Monday, June 6, 2016

There are lies, damn lies, and...Governor Wolf

We're still seeing a lot of talk about how Governor Wolf is behind "freeing the six-pack," when honestly, all he did was send a politically opportune letter. Here's how the Governor spun "supporting" what was going to happen anyway into propaganda for the masses, taken directly from the Governor's blog: a closer look at the claims. 
I’m hearing a lot about how Pennsylvania “Freed the Six-Pack.” What does that mean?
"Last week, following Governor’s Wolf’s request, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board approved nine licenses allowing gas stations to sell beer. These approvals freed the six-pack for certain gas stations with appropriate accommodations that can now to sell six-packs of beer."

Reality - The Board had already approved licenses for places that also sold fuel, which is what let to the current case in front of the State Supreme Court. There was no reason to think the Board wouldn't approve other licenses that met their requirements. In fact, if they didn't, they would likely be taken to court just like when they tried to stop grocery stores from selling beer in "cafes" in 2010.

Why is this such a big deal?
"'Freeing the six-pack' will make the commonwealth more inviting for consumers and businesses by improving customer service and convenience for Pennsylvanians. Here’s what Governor Wolf has to say about it."

Reality - With the quota system in place (one R license per 3,000 people per county), those licenses had to come from somewhere. Robbing Peter to pay Paul doesn't change the total access or number of places to buy. While you may be able to buy beer at a couple of gas stations, there are fewer places to have a beer with your meal (unless you really want to have lunch at a gas station "cafe," you poor thing), and any new places that open will be more expensive.
Stop right there! There will be no wine or liquor convenience while I'm Governor!
What exactly happened at the May 25 PLCB public meeting when these licenses were approved?
"At the regularly scheduled May 25 Board meeting, nine license applications from businesses that also sell gasoline were considered, eight of which had been held at prior meetings because they did not achieve the required two votes for either approval or denial. Now that the Board is at its full complement of three members, a number of licensing applications that have been awaiting Board action for months may be considered again.
"After careful consideration of various factors – including Commonwealth Court precedent upholding the granting of liquor licenses to convenience stores and grocery stores with alcohol sales locations separate from fuel sales operations – the Board unanimously voted to approve these nine license applications."

Reality - The PLCB first decided to allow beer sales at a convenience store location that also sells fuel on July 14, 2014, This decision was upheld by the Commonwealth Court on  July 31, 2015. By that time, the PLCB had approved more licenses for grocery and convenience stores that also sold fuel on the property.
It was Board Chairman Tim Holden (appointed as chairman by Wolf) who was voting against approval of further licensees when the board was down to just two members (after Joseph E. "Skip" Brion left on Nov, 19, 2015), supposedly because he wanted to see what the State Supreme Court would do with case of the appealed Commonwealth Court decision. However, the Supreme Court didn't agree to take up the case until Feb 18, 2016. That left a three month period between Brion leaving and the Supreme Court agreeing to take up the case where Holden voted against further licenses. Think about it: the 'no' votes could not have been for the reason he stated. Since it only takes two votes by the board for approval, and he had approved other licenses previously for properties that sold fuel — what changed?
May 25th 2016 was the first time the Board had three members since November the previous year. The Governor had sent his letter to the board asking them to "free the six-pack" (which really meant just chaining it up somewhere else), and suddenly Chairman Holden decides he can't wait for the Supreme Court decision, because it may take too long!

Will there be more licenses like this approved?
"Governor Wolf has requested that the PLCB approve similar subsequent applications that otherwise meet PLCB standards. The PLCB Board members have indicated that while each license application is reviewed and evaluated on its own merits, they, too are supportive of additional consumer convenience and growing Pennsylvania commerce."

Reality - "Licenses like this" are the only licenses available; there is nothing special or different about them.  Having a gas station buy an "R" or "E" license takes that license away from a bar or restaurant. It doesn't change convenience at all since the number of locations hasn't changed, and it is questionable if it grows employment, since a restaurant usually has more employees than a gas station.

How soon can these businesses start selling beer?
"As soon as each license is administratively finished up and issued to the licensee, that business can start selling beer. This could happen in as little as a day or two following Board approval."

Reality - Or it can take months, like the seven months it took to make the decision on some of these licenses, even after all the administrative work was finished and waiting.

How do additional gas stations get approval for selling beer to go?
"A number of different PLCB license types allow for sales of beer, including restaurant, eating place and distributor licenses. Each license type has different qualifications and grants different license privileges."

Reality - Because of the current system, every license that gets approved for this use is taken out of the pool of licenses that could be available for bars, restaurants, distributors that can effect a downtown revitalization and community growth. I don't hear too much about a convenience store or gas station doing that. This makes it more expensive for small businesses to get a license and thus leads to higher prices needed to pay off the license which means higher prices for you the consumer and possibly a need to sell more alcohol to make up the increased cost. Also, there just aren't that many licenses available right now, and until there more gas station beer.

Conclusion - The Governor didn't free the six-pack, as there was and is no increase in availability. He also didn't do anything to make the system better, as pointed out by Lew Bryson in his excellent piece. He did use this to deflect privatization because people do tend to think of beer, wine, and spirits together, even though that hasn't been the case in this state for over 80 years. The six-pack is not freed, it is just now allowed to be chained to a different owner, still a slave to the absurdity of the PLCB and their "interpretations" and regulations. If the Governor wanted to really free the six-pack, he would be proposing legislation and not interpretation. Do you see that happening? No, and you don't see the Legislature doing anything either.

Abolish the PLCB; rewrite the code!


Anonymous said...

One correction. Tim Holden was appointed to the board by Tom Corbett, not Tom Wolf. He was promoted to chairman by Wolf but still only had one vote. The vote that changed the outcome was came from the new board member and only Wolf appointee. Now that the facts are corrected it seem as if the current Governor did have a hand in "freeing the six pack". But that must be wrong cuz Wolf is bad and Turzai is cool!

Lew Bryson said...

Get serious. Wolf had no more hand in "freeing the sixpack" than I did. There was no outcome to change, they were simply reluctant to vote without three members. What a load of spin.
(You're both half-right about Tim Holden: Holden was appointed to the Board by Corbett; he was appointed as chairman by Wolf. I'll make that more clear.)

Albert Brooks said...

If the previous votes to allow sales at places that also sold fuel were 3-0, which they were. That would mean that Holden HAD to be voting for approval. When Skip left nothing had changed. So why was Holden then voting no? Again when a third member was available Holden again voted yes and still nothing had changed in either the licensees, the location or the PLCB requirements. As shown. he couldn't have been waiting for the State Supreme Court, they hadn't agreed to hear the case yet. Maybe it was a lack of spine since HE would be the one who made sure those locations would get the license being that Mike had always voted yes. I can't say.

So if you want to claim that Wolf appointed a wishy-washy Chairman - I can agree with that.