When it comes to the disbanding of the state liquor control system it’s really quite simple if you ask me. There are just some simple rules that must be followed in order for this to succeed. And since it seems like we’re the last state in the union to take this business private it seems logical that there are plenty of models out there to imitate.
First of all, getting the state of the business should have happened years ago in my opinion. I can still recall going to the state store and dealing with the grumpy clerk who would check for my wine choices one at a time. I suppose it was possible he just couldn’t remember the names of two or three brands at one time. So buying a single bottle of wine could at times take 10 or 15 minutes. And then you still had to pay. Nowadays even with the state running the show I can get in and out of the store with some browsing in less than 15 minutes and NOT be frustrated, insulted or ignored or treated rudely by the clerk.
With that out of the way it just seems to me that moving the wine and spirits business to THIS century is the right idea. Make it so that while the state is out of the sales business it remains part of the enforcement in order to keep some control. And make the retailers follow the rules or face severe punishment of loss of the right to be in the business if they violate policies.
According to the Associated Press and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “For the first time since Gov. Tom Corbett unveiled his plan to disband state-run alcohol sales, privatization is headed for a vote. But with the chairman of the House Liquor Control Committee developing an extensive amendment, the forthcoming bill may not mirror the governor’s proposal.”
The AP story says that House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, who has led privatization efforts in the Legislature, on Tuesday introduced legislation to implement the governor’s plan, which would shutter state wine and liquor stores while opening sales to sites such as groceries and pharmacies. Turzai said he expects a House panel to clear the legislation March 18, with a vote by the full House two days later.
But the head of the House liquor committee, Rep. John Taylor, R-Philadelphia, objects to several aspects of the Republican governor’s plan and is developing a set of changes he plans to bring to a vote. Taylor said he believes his amendment, when finalized, would allow privatization to pass his panel and the House, although he said it is possible that Corbett’s plan also could win committee approval if called to a vote, according to the AP.
Corbett’s plan would replace about 600 state wine and liquor stores with 1,200 licenses distributed through auction. He would allow distributors, currently restricted to selling beer by the case, to sell six-packs and to bid for a wine and spirits license. Taylor said he wants to give beer distributors the first chance at licenses.
The governor’s plan would allow grocery stores and pharmacies to sell six-packs and wine to go, and convenience stores to sell single six-packs. Taylor said he feared that the proposal would make beer too prevalent, but he said his amendment would provide sales opportunities to convenience stores, bars and taverns and groceries with licenses.
According to the AP story, Corbett, who has touted his proposal’s promise to raise $1 billion for education grants, wants to end state involvement, a spokesman said.
“The governor’s plan is based on increasing consumer choice and convenience, getting the state completely out of the liquor business and raising $1 billion for education while remaining fiscally neutral,” spokesman Eric Shirk said in a statement. “We will continue working with Chairman Taylor and we are optimistic that what comes out of committee will reflect those principles.”
Wendell W. Young IV, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1776, which represents liquor store employees, is obviously opposed to the proposal. He is looking out for his workers. And I get that. And perhaps there’s a way to make sure the competent workers are helped out.
But let’s face the facts: consumers have the right to have better service. We pump our own gas, we check ourselves out at the grocery store and other stores. So what’s the problem with putting more of the service for wine, beer and spirit into the hands of the consumers? Let us be free to browse and not have to panic at 10 o’clock at night when we want a bottle of wine that there’s nowhere to go to get one. It’s nice to be able to go to the large grocery store and pick out six bottles of beer from around the globe. It’s freedom of choice. And I don’t buy for a minute that we’re all going to pick up binge drinking or other bad habits because now there are choices out there other than the state stores.
Freedom of choice isn’t always a bad thing. It generally helps the consumer save money first and have the chance to pick out his or her choice from a much larger selection, no matter what the product is. And just because it’s alcohol doesn’t mean we need the state to look over our shoulders and keep us in line.
I for one am looking forward to a change in the state liquor system. I think it will be a win-win for all consumers.
— Andy Hachadorian