Monday, October 24, 2016

"Flexible pricing" means someone's getting screwed again

Is four bottles of wine worth the screwing we're going to get from flexible pricing?

Oh, my pricing is flexible. You bet, Slick.
Ever since the State Store clerk's union and its president (Wendell W. "Windy Wendy" Young IV), the Democrats who do their bidding in the Legislature (yeah, they do, and if there's a Democratic legislator who can give me a real reason for keeping the State Stores other than "it gets me lots of campaign cash from the unions," they'll be the first one), and syndicalist economists put forth their plans for the "modernization" of the police-enforced monopoly of the PLCB, one thing has been the hidden poison in the sweet candy of concessions, the coiled and sharpened spring waiting to slash out of the intricately-ticking machinery of "improvement" and slice open our wallets — "Flexible pricing."

Whenever the laundry list of proposals came out — more stores open on Sundays, open later, hiring outside Civil Service rules (so they could hire some less dead wood) — flexible pricing was always there, about five or six bullets down the list, promising to break prices free of the mandated mark-up so that they could give us lower prices! Except it didn't say "lower pricing," it said "flexible pricing," and we told you over and over again, "flexible pricing," in the PLCB's control, was only going to "flex" in one direction: UP. 

Well, they got it, when Senator McIlhinney laid his latest mutated liquor bill on us, and Speaker Turzai signed off on it (there were some good things in there, but whether they were worth the cost...), and The Wolf Who Walks Like A Man signed it. Hurray! Free at last...a little!

Remember: Wendy said to look concerned.
But... Flexible pricing, guys! Hot damn!
And Wendell cried and pounded the podium, and told us that allowing supermarkets to sell wine was the beginning of the end, death by a thousand cuts...but he must have been smiling as he turned away from the cameras, a secret, villainous smile, because the PLCB and the union got the flexible pricing they wanted. It was limited to the 150 best-selling products (which is where most of the money comes from anyway), and it cost them a tiny little slice of their monopoly, allowing licensees to sell no more than four bottles of wine at a time (at prices guaranteed to be higher than the State Stores, because they had to be bought from the PLCB wholesale monopoly at rigged prices). 

But it was worth it to Wendell and his yellow-shirted minions in the PLCB. Now journalists across the state are finally waking up to what we told you years ago: flexible pricing means we're getting screwed. Again. The PLCB is finally using their long-heralded buying power to hammer down the price to them, but you'll never see a dime of that. Have a look. 
The Pittsburgh TribLIVE, October 5th: "Pa. LCB accused of using new 'flexible pricing' law to boost profits" — "Privately, though, wine and spirits officials said the LCB asked for specific percentage cuts in cost but without saying what markup would then be applied. That strategy means suppliers wouldn't know what the final shelf price would be for shoppers." 
Harrisburg PennLIVE, October 19: "Lawmakers need to go back and include liquor in 'liquor reform'" — "We urge the state to forego what it euphemistically calls "flexible pricing" for another two years. We urge the General Assembly to finish the job and complete privatization.
Harrisburg PennLIVE, October 18 — "Here's how Pennsylvanians got hoodwinked by booze 'modernization'" — "The provision, known as flexible pricing, isn't likely to be very satisfying to anyone who shops for wine or spirits in Pennsylvania. It gives the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) the ability to manipulate price, something it has long desired as a way of raising revenues." 
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette October 20 — "Pennsylvania's liquor ‘modernization’ hoax" — "Here’s an unfortunate reality about Pennsylvania’s so-called modernization of its liquor business: You’re going to pay a lot more for it. This isn’t modernization, but rather a step backward."
What does Windy Wendy offer in rebuttal? This almost incoherent mish-mash of his old arguments — the State Stores offer competitive prices (Really? How can they be "competitive" when there is, by law, no competition allowed?), they bring in lots of taxes (just like private stores would), and the new licensees will not match the selection or prices of the PLCB (that's actually true: because the law doesn't allow them to) — with a pathetic plea to 'stop picking on me': "Is it time for PennLive to perhaps take a different tack on the long-running battle over dismantling the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) by, perhaps giving it a rest already?" Perhaps perhaps! He's so pissed he can't even speak straight; this is a direct quote from the op-ed piece that PennLIVE allowed him to dump on their website: "We opposed this law, Act 39, will cost taxpayers millions in lost revenue." [SIC] Sad, really. He's clearly got nothing, and his Democratic lapdogs in the Legislature have got nothing. 

Okay, headline...I got it!
"McIlhinney's Mistake Screws Us All"
So let's do something about this. "Flexible pricing" was foisted on us by Senator Chuck McIlhinney, for reasons known mainly to him. Why don't the newspapers ask McIlhinney why the PLCB got this one-sided tool without any restrictions on its use, or requirements for reporting on how it is used? Ask him why there's a four-bottle limit on wine sales at licensees? How about you ask him why his law favors big markets over mom-and-pop stores by requiring the whole separate "cafe" with separate registers and clerks to ring up beer and wine? Ask McIlhinney who he's compromising with. And ask the Democrats why not ONE of them has voted for real liquor privatization.

And the rest of us? The citizens? Ask your legislators, your reps and your senators, to put a two-year hold on "flexible pricing." Haven't we paid enough? Why should we pay more so the PLCB can continue to paper over the ruin that their spiraling operating costs are creating?

The best solution to all of this? Stop tinkering: PRIVATIZE. It works in over 2/3 of the other states, it works in over 85% of the countries in the world. Why not Pennsylvania? 

1 comment:

Albert Brooks said...

Maybe the first screw - the PLCB is charging $10 per bottle over MSRP for the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection and $100 over MSRP for the collection of all 5.