Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The state benefits, but do we?

I've been a frequent and consistent critic of the Pennsylvania state store system, and a fresh news release from the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board reinforces my reasons for advocating a free-market, private-enterprise operation. The PLCB announced Tuesday that its liquor stores raked in a record $1.84 billion in the last fiscal year, a figure that included about $495 million in sales tax, liquor tax and profits that was forwarded to the state’s general fund. No one is denying that the PLCB contributes a major chunk of money to state operations, and this year's contribution was a record. But couldn't the same money be generated by privately owned businesses? The liquor taxes would remain in place, as would the sales tax. Perhaps, with lower prices created through competition, those taxes could even be increased slightly without negatively affecting the bottom line for consumers. One would also think that taxes on the businesses running these private wine and liquor stores would offset a significant portion of the $125 million in profits that the state stores generated for the general fund this past fiscal year. And sales might even increase in a free-market system that, presumably, would include more than the 619 stores currently operated by the PLCB. In Washington, we have three liquor stores. The best of the stores is behind Washington Mall, not exactly a prime location. And when I say best, I mean only that its selection is slightly better than the offerings at the two crummy stores on South Main Street and in Tylerdale. The South Main store is now open only three days a week, and its hours of operation are a joke. Ingress and egress from the Tylerdale store are horrible. But the PLCB promises great things ahead. Said PLCB Chairman Patrick Stapleton, "In the next year, our customers will begin to see a renaissance in our retail operations highlighted by vast improvements in the look and feel of our stores and a renewed commitment to customer service and employee education." Does this strike anyone else as comparable to what comes out of the back end of a bull? Of course, these are the same guys who signed a six-figure deal with an outside firm to teach their people to be polite to customers. The news release on Tuesday went on to say that the PLCB has a plan for the coming year that "includes initiatives to improve the customer store experience; enhance training for board employees; boost returns to the state general fund; assure and promote responsible use of alcohol through regulation and education; and take advantage of new technologies." Maybe I missed it, but I sure didn't see anything in the release about better prices, more variety and more convenient hours and locations. I recently conducted an informal e-mail survey of Pennsylvania state senators, asking them whether they would support privatization of the state store system and/or allow the sale of wine and beer in grocery stores and other retail outlets. Most of them ignored me. Some referred my inquiry to my own state senator, who ignored it. But a few responded, and there is some support for privatization. And you might be surprised by this, but it was Republican lawmakers, who sometimes get branded as sticks in the mud, who were more often in favor of the proposals. I know I probably won't live long enough to see these things come to fruition, but I'll keep dreaming.

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Blogger Ellipses said...

The outlet store by the washington mall is awesome... compared to the other stores... but that is like saying that Liz is my hottest cousin.

Certainly the state has access to comparative data that would show every possible scenario in terms of real dollars if they released their death grip on this industry... It reminds me of a great health care analogy... If the US has the best health care system in the world, why aren't other countries trying to copy us?

If the PA system of wine and spirits stores is so awesome, why aren't any other states clamoring to emulate us?

July 8, 2009 at 3:19 PM  
Blogger Dale Lolley said...

Of course the Dems won't back it, Brant. Couldn't put those union workers making $25 an hour with state benefits as store clerks out on the street.

July 8, 2009 at 4:52 PM  
Blogger Brant said...

The fella who works at the South Main store is unfailingly friendly, but some of the workers at the Washington Mall location act as if they wouldn't pee on you if you were on fire, and most of the ones I've talked to don't know the first thing about the product they're selling. But you're right, those union jobs (that we're paying the excessive salaries for; although I don't know that it's $25 an hour) must remain sacred.

July 8, 2009 at 5:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I beg to differ with Brant regarding unfriendly clerks at the Washington Mall store. I've been in the store about three times in the past three months and was so impressed with how friendly and helpful the clerks are, unlike in the past. I thought they must have all been to charm school. They pointed out really good values and they were correct. The wine they recommended was both delicious and very cheap. I think it's a pleasure to shop there.

July 8, 2009 at 6:29 PM  
Blogger Mike Jones said...

Are you preaching free market? And I thought you were a stone cold liberal. This post ought to blow femiphoeny's mind.

July 8, 2009 at 7:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sounds like mike jones wants a cheap date with you brant!

July 8, 2009 at 9:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank god I don't drink much. If Idid, I'd move to a state where they are rational about liquor sales.

July 9, 2009 at 10:33 AM  
Blogger Lew Bryson said...

How come it is...that everytime someone says something good about State Store clerks, they're COMPLETELY AWESOME AND WONDERFUL...and the commenter is "anonymous"? Is it because their real name is "State Store Clerk's Mom"?

PA has about 1/3 as many liquor stores as other states our size do; our choice is crap and dwindling (except for shite wine and flavored vodkas!!); the service is incredibly hit or miss. IF the PLCB delivered remarkable improvements in the health and welfare of Pennsylvanians, "control" might be worth it. But they don't: PA is right in the average middle on DUI, underage drinking, alcohol-related disease, and the like. It ain't worth it. Get rid of the state monopoly on booze sales.

And why would it surprise you to find Republicans in favor of privatization? The major effective forces against alcohol are almost all on the Progressive side these days: CASA, CSPI, Robt. Wood Johnson Foundation, PIRE, NIAAA. And Republicans generally drool over the idea of privatization.

Me, I'd just like to see the PLCB go AWAY, for good.

July 9, 2009 at 2:23 PM  
Blogger Ellipses said...

That's weird... That is the second time I have accidentally ended up on Lew Bryson's blog in two days...

You, sir... are like Braveheart... you just happen to be on TNT on those random occasions when I channel surf through TNT...

That would be a good netflix commercial for Phony

July 9, 2009 at 2:27 PM  
Blogger Brant said...

Lew, thanks for the information. Just bookmarked your blog. Keep fighting the good fight.

July 9, 2009 at 2:54 PM  
Blogger Lori said...

So, beer in grocery stores is coming soon to your town. But, the State stores all over the country always have that feel of aquiring illegal drugs in a back alley. A better atmosphere will only bring a higher price. Remember the fancy grocery stores that have popped up in the past ten years? Interior designers cost big bucks.
Here in Washington State we buy beer and wine in the grcery store. Then around the corner on the side street you get your spirits but not after 5:00 and not on Satruday or Sunday.

July 17, 2009 at 3:17 PM  

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