"What's black and white and read all over?"

Sunday, January 27, 2008
Posted 9:04 PM by

PLCB a relic whose time is past

We will sell no wine (or liquor stores) before it's time, even though the public may find it as distasteful as piss and vinegar.The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette began a laudable series today whose aim is nothing less than ending the state's monopoly on booze sales by privatizing its stores.

Among the newspaper's disclosures so far:

  • The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board generated nearly half a billion dollars profit last year for state coffers on $1.69 billion in sales. Much of the revenue, however, went to pay the more than 3,600 full- or part-time state store clerks and managers, plus more than 400 people at its Harrisburg headquarters.

  • The average annual salary of a Pennsylvania state store clerk is $30,000, plus health benefits and a pension. A phone survey of privately owned liquor stores in neighboring Ohio suggests that clerks there typically earn half what Pennsylvania clerks make, with no benefits.

  • It's grossly, maybe even purposely, inefficient. In the state-store distribution system, all wine and spirits must go through one of three warehouses, in Pittsburgh, Scranton and Philadelphia. Although a state store is just a few miles from some Erie County wineries, the winery has to truck its wares all the way to Pittsburgh when the local store needs to be restocked.

  • Despite a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision that was supposed to put in-state and out-of-state wineries on equal footing for shipping wines directly to customers, Pennsylvania is still listed as a "no-ship" state on the California Wine Institute's Web page.

  • A $10 bottle of wine costs about $18 after markups, charges and state taxes get tacked on.

The last real attempt to privatize the system came in 1997, when "Gov. Ridge did everything in his power" but found little support from the House Liquor Control Committee, said Rep. Robert Donatucci, D-Philadelphia, a long-time member.

Last summer, Gov. Ed Rendell proved he was adapt at playing politics with the PLCB by forcing out its chairman, Jonathan H. Newman, a year after he re-nominated him to the post by naming ousted state Sen. Joe Conti to the newly created post of CEO.

That's seems to be as far towards "reforming" the system as Rendell is willing to go.

Yet, Fast Eddie can't wait to lease the state turnpike and put new toll booths on Interstate 80, even though state taxpayers have long paid for the construction and maintenance of those state assetts.

Somebody needs to tell Ed he's a lame duck and no longer need listen to his campaign contributors.

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