Monday, October 31, 2016

PA Democrats need to go to Iowa

When you're talking about getting a bottle of booze, and the words "freedom," "consumer choice," "selection," and "benefiting the citizens" are mentioned, Pennsylvania certainly isn't the first state that comes to mind.  But then, neither is Iowa, even though they are decades ahead of what our blinder-wearing Pennsylvania legislators have come up with for liquor policy.

Just like Pennsylvania at the end of Prohibition, Iowa instituted a state-controlled system for wine and liquor. Unlike the Commonwealth, they listened to their citizens and changed with the times. Maybe you're thinking that Iowa had a different societal outlook, that they were more likely to liberalize their liquor laws. Not even close: Iowa didn't even allow drinks by the glass until 1963. If you wanted a rum & coke, you drank at home or not at all. So for at least the first 29 years after Prohibition ended, we were doing better than Iowa.

Iowa also raised their liquor tax on licensees in the 60's from 10 to 15%, but they didn't hide it by calling it "temporary" for something that happened 30 years earlier as Pennsylvania did with the infamous Johnstown Flood Emergency Liquor Boondoggle Tax. They also didn't then bump it to 18%, either.

Since Iowa didn't have as many convoluted regulations and "interpretations," they were able to totally rewrite the liquor code in 1972, simplifying it from twelve chapters down to just one, all in one place in the code. When Pennsylvania "revised" The Almighty Liquor Code in 1951 they expanded it, and spread the regulations across multiple sections of the state code. Brilliant.

Kwik Star, Charles, Iowa
On May 4th,1972 the Iowa legislature decided that gas stations could sell beer...without having separate registers and cafes! Only 44 years ahead of PA, and they had hundreds of places instead of just nine. In 2011 they allowed gas station liquor sales, too. Don't hold your breath on that.

In 1981 Iowa, again decades ahead of Pennsylvania, allowed craft brewers to not only sell their own beer by the glass but ANY beer obtained from a licensed wholesaler for on and off premise consumption.  35 years later, we're just starting to catch up.

In 1985 the Iowa legislature started to unwind state control of wholesale/retail wine sales, acknowledging that they didn't have the knowledge or expertise needed to operate consumer-friendly outlets. The dual sale of wine in state and private stores took less than two years to show the clear winner, and the state closed state store wine sales in 1987. 20 years later, the Pennsylvania Legislature hatches McIlhinney's Mistake, and we're allowed to buy four bottles of wine at a time in a relative handful of grocery stores. Yippee, yay us.

Not in PA! You can only have 4, put one back.!
Shortly after wine was fully privatized in Iowa, retail liquor followed suit. The state transitioned from 221 state stores to 256 private stores in only four months. By the end of the four month period, Iowa had approved a total of 410 private stores. Even after lowering and eliminating some taxes — contrary to what State Store clerk union president Wendell W. Young IV says — the state of Iowa makes more money by not having state stores as reported by the state of Iowa itself.

Well before the U.S. Supreme Court Granholm v. Heald decision in 2005, Iowa legalized reciprocal wine shipping in 1996. It would be 20 years later, after almost eleven years of ignoring the Supreme Court's ruling, when Pennsylvania  finally came into compliance and allowed such shipments.

So here we are in the fall of 2016. Iowa and Pennsylvania started out roughly equivalent at Repeal, but the Hawkeye State has far outstripped the Keystone State in the race to booze normalcy. Iowa has far greater convenience, one stop shops, and no bureaucrats deciding which legal products are allowed to be sold in the state (the state still has a monopoly on spirits wholesale, but it isn't run in the draconian way the PLCB does it). Iowa is decades ahead in doing what their citizens want; in August, the governor announced another comprehensive review of the liquor code. Meanwhile, The Almighty Liquor Code has only gotten more convoluted and confusing (to legislators and licensees alike) since 1951. 

With over 1,400 retail liquor outlets serving a population a quarter the size of Pennsylvania's, do you know what else Iowa has? Less underage binge drinking, lower DUI fatalities (in both legal and underage drinkers), and lower DUI arrests.

What is the lesson of looking at Iowa? Simple. We don't need the PLCB: they're not convenient, they're not helping alcohol safety, and as we've been telling you for years, when you look at the entire financial picture, they aren't even making the state any money over and above the taxes that a private system could collect.

PRIVATIZE. It just makes sense.

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