Saturday, April 18, 2020

Why This Isn't Already Done

This is something I just posted on the "Abolish the PLCB - Rewrite The Code!" Facebook group page (a group you're certainly encouraged and welcome to join). A new member was full of righteous rage and wanted to know how to get privatization and said we needed to force Harrisburg to change this. Frankly, I wish we could. But 12 years of writing and editing this blog, and all the activity that went with it, has taught me patience, the patience needed to wear away a stone. Here's what I've learned, here's how it's got to be done.  

For the new readers: I've been trying to push this rock for twelve years. I've been to Harrisburg to attend hearings and lobbying meetings, I've testified before a joint committee of the legislature once, I've made friends with a number of reporters and fed them info and ideas. Some small progress has been made, but...a reality check is needed. This is an uphill fight, although the PLCB's huge failures in the past month are a great opportunity.

Here's why.

I was so spunky back then.
I had a lot of schemes and ideas when I started working on this back in 2008. The tough truth is that there isn't anything that can be done until a MUCH larger number of voters are actively engaged on the issue. And that's not easy, because of a few factors.

1. People are liable to be embarrassed to stand up for their booze rights. "It's only a drink, it's not important." Polls usually show that people are willing to be taxed more for drinks, even though they already are.

2. Many Pennsylvanians just don't know any better. They've never gone out of state to buy booze, so the State Stores' adequacy is all they know.

Dezinformatsiya...UFCW style
3. The other side, largely through the union that represents the State Store clerks, UFCW Chapter 1776, does a great job of shaming anyone who supports privatization: "You're a drunk! You just want more alcohol! This will cost thousands of family-supporting jobs! The PLCB gives MILLIONS to the state, to police, to communities! There are much more important things that need to be done!" And people back off, because that SOUNDS reasonable.

4. There's a LOT of deeply-believed misinformation and ignorance about the situation. That the PLCB is a cash cow (it's not), that it serves us well (with only 600 stores in a state where 5,000 would be average, how can they?), that it's not illegal to buy booze out of state (it absolutely is). People are constantly amazed about the existence of the Johnstown Flood Tax, they believe it's illegal because "it's a tax on a tax" (completely not illegal to do that), without ever realizing the huge layer cake of taxes and fees that boost the shelf price of booze in PA.

5. The PLCB is absolutely brilliant at assessing the threat of privatization, and doing just enough to make people think they're improving, and the threat decreases.

Despite all this, we will have to get millions of them on board, because the Legislature cannot be moved otherwise.

Democratic legislators block-vote against this; in over 10 years, not one has ever broken ranks that I can recall. Republicans from southeast PA are likely to flip-flop on it: they face more pressure from unions here, and from a highly-organized group of beer sellers who'd just as soon see their competition run incompetently. It's a powerful combo. Speaker Turzai has tirelessly campaigned for privatization (he's retiring after this term), but the Senate has balked on it, and Wolf will not sign a full privatization bill. Without Democratic votes, there's no way to override him.
Privatization? No. HELL no.
The courts won't do anything because of the 21st amendment; states have very broad power to regulate alcohol.

The Board itself is, naturally, only interested in preserving the agency. The three members are traditionally appointed 1 each by the legislative GOP, Dems, and the governor, so no real help there.

THE ONLY THING THAT WILL WORK is getting fellow citizens involved. Writing letters to newspapers, reminding people how badly the PLCB handled literally everything in this crisis, reposting on Facebook.

Like it says at the top of the blog,

"...there was [in 1997] no overarching passion within the General Assembly, or in the public at large, for privatization. Unless and until there is a general hue and cry, it is very unlikely there will be a privatization initiative that succeeds." -- John E. Jones III, former PLCB chairman

Friday, April 3, 2020

Time for a

With the State Stores closed, and the PLCB's website essentially non-functional -- 

With restaurants and bars across the state reduced to take-out business --

With the PLCB refusing to service any but the largest accounts (while the Wolf Administration tells Pennsylvania that we should look to the private market to meet the demand caused by the closed State Stores...while denying that market the right to sell spirits)

With thousands of businesses on the brink of failure, tens of thousands of people unemployed -- 

Someone has to do something. 

Why not you? Sign this petition, asking Governor Wolf and the Legislature (or the PLCB, why not?) to immediately allow the sale of wine and spirits to-go (or local delivery) by all licensees, including beer distributors, through the end of 2020. Give them a chance to make the money that will allow them to stay open, employing some people, and giving others hope for re-employment when the crisis ends.

Buddy, can you spare a signature? 
Before you say, 'Oh, those petitions don't change anything,' last week a petition just like this one succeeded in getting the government of Ontario to allow restaurants to sell wine and beer to go. We can do that here, just as quickly, just as easily.

Until then, Pennsylvanians will continue to cross the borders, spreading the disease. Those taxes will be lost to the state, where they could help pay unemployment benefits, while the PLCB flounders, trying to serve the whole state from three warehouses with a patched-up website (while the wholesalers who service the PLCB's operations have their offers to help rejected), literally filling only hundreds of orders out of hundreds of thousands of attempts to place an order. 

Is this a total solution? No.
Will this save every restaurant, every bar? No.
Will it adequately compensate every beer distributor for the damage to their business? No.

Is it better than what the State's doing now?  Hell yeah. 

Over 11,000 people have signed as of April 14. This is not a fringe position. 

Please. Sign the petition and share it. Thank you.