Monday, April 8, 2019

PLCB Numbers, PLCB lies: the truth about Bailment

A little over six years ago, the PLCB put in place a system called Bailment. Bailment is a common regimen in the business world...which is probably why the PLCB took 80 years to get there.

Bailment is a pretty simple idea; for instance, when you "give" your car to your mechanic with the implicit understanding that there's only a change of possession, not ownership. The mechanic holds your car until the work is done, and it's understood that the car never changes ownership; you don't have to stand there with your hand on the car to maintain your ownership of it.

In the case of the PLCB, bailment is a little more complicated, but not that much. The way it used to be, a wholesaler would deliver product to the PLCB warehouses, and they'd submit a bill immediately. Under bailment, the product is delivered to the warehouse, but the PLCB doesn't take ownership of it until it is subsequently taken from the warehouse for delivery to the stores. At that point, the wholesaler submits the bill, and PLCB will pay them. Well, not right then, that's not how business works, after all. Everyone works on "net 30," where you have 30 days to pay. The PLCB, of course, pays on "net 90." Because they're a monopoly, so there.

Bailment was touted as a big money-saver for the PLCB, a major 'get' the agency wanted legislative permission to use. It would reduce the PLCB's actual inventory costs, which would seem likely. But it would also allow the PLCB to skip the need for their annual $110,000,000 tax-free, interest-free loan from the General Fund at the start of every year, so they could buy product and have something to sell in the stores. Isn't that the way every business works? Borrow money from Mama to buy stock, and then pay her back...interest-free?

Well...the PLCB did stop taking the loan. Which you would think meant that they should have had some extra money to turn into the General Fund, you know, that big "contribution" that the Legislature tells them they're going to make. Yeah, that didn't happen. The amount after bailment was the same as the amount before bailment - $80,000,000.

We don't care -- it ain't OUR money, it's YOUR money.
The big talkers from the clerks' union say that there wouldn't be any increase just because the loan wasn't needed, because that money was used to buy the startup inventory. Let's look at that in round numbers to make it easier to follow.

Say I (as the PLCB) borrow...$100 million to buy inventory. In the course of the year, I make $500 million selling that booze to unhappy Pennsylvania citizens (unhappy because they have to buy from me!) before expenses. I then have to pay back the $100 million, which leaves me with $400 million to pay my other bills. But because of The Wonder Of Bailment!!!, I didn't spend as much just to have things sitting in my warehouse, so I didn't need that $100 million loan...which means I have the full $500 million before expenses. That money is now mine to spend on other increasing the amount turned into the General Fund.

But that didn't happen, nor is that money accounted for in store remodels, in fact, there are fewer stores now than there were then. It's not accounted for in increased education, increased money to enforcement, or buying new LCBee costumes. So where did it go? 

Well...about the same time, the PLCB was putting in a new Oracle computer system. Unfortunately, just like the system they installed before, they didn't do a very good job (the Auditor General said so; both times). The cost overrun was about $40,000,000 (although it was spread out over a few years). Inventory expenses went up over $20,000,000 the first year, even though Bailment was supposed to reduce inventory costs and keep them low. Store, warehouse, and transportation costs went up $25,000,000. Stores' operations and supervision expenses went up $25,000.000  Overall, for the first two years of bailment, PLCB Operating expenses went up over $82,000,000! While both years had "record sales" (so knock-down easy to do in a monopoly that we wonder why they keep saying it), the PLCB had record expenses to go with them and pretty soon...the $100 million was gone.

So...all that money bailment was going to save through reduction in inventory costs? Last year, inventory was about 2.5% shy of pre-Bailment levels. One gets the feeling that the PLCB uses the Servpro motto - "Like it never happened."

After seeing what a bang-up job the PLCB did with our money here, maybe we'll check into how well variable pricing is screwing the citizens, and why we aren't seeing that extra $185 million that wonderful plan was supposed to bring in. We have a sneaking suspicion that the words "rising operations costs" are involved...

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