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Pennsylvania Union: Privatizing Liquor Sales Will Kill Children

Facepalm

Pennsylvania has some of the most idiotic and restrictive laws dealing with the sale of beer, wine, and hard liquor of any state in the nation. Unlike most states, you cannot buy beer and wine in grocery stores or convenience stores, for example. But it’s actually worse than that. You can buy wine and hard liquor from state run stores, assuming you can find one if you happen to live in one of the counties in Central Pennsylvania that seem to do their best to make it next to impossible to buy alcohol. However, you can generally only buy beer from a distributor, and when you do you have to purchase it by the case. Some grocery store chains have successfully used an exception in the law to get authorization to sell beer, but many Pennsylvanians find themselves restricted to state run stores and distributors if they want to buy a perfectly legal product.

There have been several attempts over the years to reform the laws in Pennsylvania, and another one of those efforts is happening now. As Jacob Sullum explains, it has led to a union representing the people who work at the state run stores to create what may well be the most absurd political commercial ever:

Here’s the ad:

Sullum also highlights another anti-privatization ad, which is perhaps even more despicable:

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. CSK says:

    I just did some quickie research, and Pennsylvania has 3.2 fatalities from drunken driving per 100,000. Massachusetts has 1.9 fatalities from drunken driving per 100,000. So the boast of the woman in the first commercial may not be quite accurate.

    Of course, Massachusetts is a physically small state with an abundance of top flight trauma centers and hospitals, which may mean that more accident victims are saved because they’re treated more quickly.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  2. Paul L. says:

    Is about greed.

    The greed of the Government, Union and Crony Capitalists alcohol.sellers profiting from “the idiotic and restrictive laws” left over from the Prohibition.

    But according to progressives alcohol is just dangerous and Government should regulate it heavily and we can’t trust private sector which caused the housing/bank crash in one of the heaviest regulated industries

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 9

  3. Ron Beasley says:

    I don’t know about killing children but the people of Washington State found out is when you privatize it the prices increase 20 – 30 percent.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  4. Anderson says:

    Well okay, but I need more facts.

    Which children?

    How quickly?

    Will they suffer much?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 0

  5. DC Loser says:

    The Virginia ABC stores are way more expensive than the privately run DC liquor stores.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  6. grewgills says:

    @Paul L.:
    Do you really think it is the Left pushing this rather than social conservatives?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  7. grewgills says:

    @Ron Beasley:
    The main experience I have had with this is growing up in Alabama, with all state run liquor stores with Georgia next door with much less restrictive alcohol sales laws. Two guesses whether it was us driving to GA to fill up our trunks with booze for sodden college weekends or if it was the other way round.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  8. @Ron Beasley:

    I don’t know about killing children but the people of Washington State found out is when you privatize it the prices increase 20 – 30 percent.

    Yes, that was entirely the fault of privatization and had absolutely nothing to do with the new 22% alcohol sales tax that was included in the privatization initiative.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  9. @grewgills:

    Do you really think it is the Left pushing this rather than social conservatives?

    I’m guessing both. It’s close to a literal example of the “baptists and bootleggers” problem.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  10. Paul L. says:

    @grewgills:
    My view as a PA Resident is the only people who really want to keep the State run system are those who currently making money off it.

    Government, Union and Crony Capitalists Alcohol Sellers

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  11. Hal_10000 says:

    @Paul L.:

    As a fellow Pennsylvanian I agree. Who can forget the Keystone Kops routine when they tried to put kiosks in grocery stores.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  12. al-Ameda says:

    @Paul L.:

    But according to progressives alcohol is just dangerous and Government should regulate it heavily and we can’t trust private sector which caused the housing/bank crash in one of the heaviest regulated industries

    Except for the fact that you’re wrong, you might have had a good point.
    In Washington, a state with many progressives, those same progressives voted to end the State monopoly on the sales of most alcohol, and let the system go private.

    By the way, we do legally penalize users of alcohol who drive under the influence, and so forth. Do you really have a problem with that?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  13. DrDaveT says:

    @Paul L.:

    Is about greed. The greed of the Government, Union and Crony Capitalists

    See, you were so close to an insightful comment here, but you had to go and screw it up with a random poke at “Government”.

    Union greed? Absolutely. Crony capitalists? Absolutely.

    But “the Government” is not a thing that can be greedy — because it isn’t an entity with a unified will, and it doesn’t get to KEEP the money, and it only collects it and uses it on explicit instructions from the legislature. If the legislature isn’t representing the people, then see Unions and Crony Capitalists above.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  14. DrDaveT says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Yes, that was entirely the fault of privatization and had absolutely nothing to do with the new 22% alcohol sales tax that was included in the privatization initiative.

    Not a lot of sympathy here, since this was a referendum — which is to say, a self-inflicted wound.

    By a strange coincidence, I recently interviewed an economist who had written a paper on this subject. It was not a great paper and we didn’t offer a job, but I learned a lot about the law and its fallout. The real poison pill was the massive subsidy of megastores that is driving mom-and-pop liquor stores out of business in many parts of Washington State. (It’s also boosting sales in Oregon just across the bridges…)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  15. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @DrDaveT: I’d be interested in reading that paper because from what I remember of the issue, I’m having difficulty figuring out where the “mom-and-pop” liquor stores were finding the square footage needed to open at all. IIRC, one of the features of the new law was that overall retail space requirements were a barrier to opening stores that sold liquor exclusively (for example, no existing WSLCB store was large enough to be so converted) or selling it in convenience stores. I may be wrong, but it seems to me that this is another of those *bad progressives! bad!* arguments.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  16. TJ Harrow says:

    Allow me to provide a different perspective. As a minority who lives in Pennsylvania and who grew up in a poor minority neighborhood Pennsylvania’s tight control over alcohol sales has been a good thing. Compared to other states with looser controls minority neigborhoods in PA aren’t loaded with liquor stores. Those other states have liquor stores in minority neighborhoods on practically every block which causes all sorts of problems.

    Problems like puddles of vomit and broken and intact but empty bottles of alcohol surrounding the store selling alcohol that the people (especially kids) who live in the neighborhood have to walk through. Problems like groups of drunks hanging around the area drinking or begging/threatening people for money to get alcohol. Also the liquor store robbery which is a staple of criminal activity in other states is rare here because they aren’t money machines. Stores selling alcohol are crime and disorder generators.

    Minority neighborhoods get liquor stores where the sales clerks are behind floor to ceiling bulletproof Plexiglass and which only stock the cheapest booze which is sold with a paper bag so their customers can drink it on the street without running afoul of the law. The mild inconvenience that middle class white people suffer because of the restrictions on alcohol sales is more than outweighed by the benefits poor minority neighborhoods get.

    Think of it this way. If marijuana legalization comes to your state would any of you allow marijuana dispensaries to be setup in your neighborhoods with you and your kids having to walk by groups of people surrounding the marijuana dispensary toking up? What about dispensaries for harder drugs? Considering how hard middle class white people fight having public housing, group homes, halfway houses, mental health centers, etc located in their neighborhoods I don’t think so.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  17. Grewgills says:

    @TJ Harrow:
    I have lived in majority minority neighborhoods most of my adult life and allowing grocery stores to sell alcohol didn’t make any of those neighborhoods less desirable. I have also lived walking distance from dispensaries and “coffee shops” and didn’t see any negative impact there either. The dispensary patients were pretty uniformly discreet. The local ‘coffee shop’ patrons were discreet as well. Americans in the red light adjacent shops less so, but if you go there you expect it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  18. DrDaveT says:

    @Just ‘nutha ig’rant cracker:

    I’m having difficulty figuring out where the “mom-and-pop” liquor stores were finding the square footage needed to open at all. IIRC, one of the features of the new law was that overall retail space requirements were a barrier to opening stores that sold liquor exclusively (for example, no existing WSLCB store was large enough to be so converted

    The paper was focused on the border-crossing issue; we picked up on the size requirement during discussion and further research. The initial auction, in which existing stores were sold to the highest bidder, included an exemption from the new rule that you had to have at least 10,000 square feet of sales floor to sell liquor. None of the existing WSLCB stores were that big, so this jacked up the auction prices to levels that probably aren’t recoverable by the new proprietors. Winner’s curse.

    It’s pretty clear that, whatever the voters of WA thought they were doing, what they were really doing was outsourcing the state liquor stores to Costco.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  19. Gustopher says:

    @DrDaveT:

    It’s pretty clear that, whatever the voters of WA thought they were doing, what they were really doing was outsourcing the state liquor stores to Costco.

    This is why I generally vote against all initiatives, and never sign the petitions. The initiative process is far too easily abused, and average citizens are not really capable of taking the time to understand the nuances of a proposed law’s effects. This is but one example.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  20. John D'Geek says:

    @DrDaveT:

    But “the Government” is not a thing that can be greedy — because it isn’t an entity with a unified will, and it doesn’t get to KEEP the money …

    You obviously aren’t from Pennsylvania.

    I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt: maybe other states aren’t greedy. But PA is definitely greedy. The whole “divisive will” thing is not universal — there are a few things that both parties can agree on. And “We want more money” happens to be one of them.

    Take the whole property-tax “debate” (more like “debacle”, really) a while back. PA residents were fed up with property taxes … which the legislature promptly pretended to care about, while simultaneously playing “divide and conquer” to keep their taxes.

    FYI: State and Local Governments do get to keep all sorts of the money they make. They use accounting tricks and gimmicks to pretend that the budget money was spent, when in reality they are just moving it to the “slush fund”. When I worked for a county government, my salary was budgeted and showed up in the local paper. Meanwhile, most of my work was “charged” to the Federal Government. Where did that money go?

    To the County Government. They got to keep it.

    @Doug Mataconis:

    assuming you can find one if you happen to live in one of the counties in Central Pennsylvania

    Trust me, anyone in Central PA (where I’m from) that wants to buy hard liquor knows where to find it. They may grumble about the drive, but they know where to drive to.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  21. Grewgills says:

    @John D’Geek:

    To the County Government. They got to keep it.

    So, is it in some sort of Scrooge McDuck vault that legislators swim through? What do you think happens to this money they ‘keep’?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  22. Just 'nutha' ig'rant cracker says:

    @DrDaveT: Thanks for the info on his work and your due diligence. As to your final comment, it seems to me that outsourcing the selling of liquor to Costco was the feature that voters wanted, not a glitch. As I recall the debate (and I was only around for a few weeks of it before I went back to Korea) people got that they were voting to replace the WSLCB with Costco. Where they made their mistake (if there was one) was in ignoring the “revenue neutral” aspects. They were thinking “the tax will be high, but the state is gouging us soooooo much that even with the tax, prices will go down.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  23. anjin-san says:

    @ Paul L.

    Is about greed.

    The right worships greed when it is executives looting their own companies. What’s that problem?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  24. John D'Geek says:

    @Grewgills:

    So, is it in some sort of Scrooge McDuck vault that legislators swim through? What do you think happens to this money they ‘keep’?

    More or less. It goes into the un-budgeted monies, which means they can do pretty much anything they want with it. Include leave it there for swimming practice.

    Unless, of course, you’re willing to admit that the wealthy do not get to “keep” their money either, at least not in the Scrooge McDuck sense of the word.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  25. Grewgills says:

    @John D’Geek:
    Again, what exactly do you think is happening with that money they ‘keep’? A quick google search shows PA running a budget deficit, which seems to rule out the government keeping the money. Do you think just maybe that money is going to pay for the government or the state debt?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  26. DrDaveT says:

    @Just ‘nutha’ ig’rant cracker:

    Where they made their mistake (if there was one) was in ignoring the “revenue neutral” aspects.

    That’s certainly one major mistake. I’d say that another was in expecting a market that would be dominated by large-box stores and grocery stores to offer better selection. “Revenue neutral” hurts even more when it’s combined with lower average quality inventory.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  27. Grewgills says:

    @DrDaveT:

    I’d say that another was in expecting a market that would be dominated by large-box stores and grocery stores to offer better selection.

    Better than what? Admittedly, I haven’t been to a PA state run liquor store, but I have been to plenty in Alabama. The local Costco here in Hawaii and the ones I went to in California have at least as good a selection as the state run Alabama liquor stores and a much better wine selection and the prices are better. If you include BevMo or similar large footprint liquor stores the selection is far better than any state run store and the price will be as good or better.

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  28. DrDaveT says:

    @Grewgills:

    Better than what?

    From what I’ve read, the trend in WA has been for the new liquor stores to focus on high-volume low-end product, with very few high-end options. The comparison is against what was available before privatization. I only know what I read; my personal experience with state liquor stores in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia has been pretty bad.

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  29. Grewgills says:

    @DrDaveT:
    I just checked the BevMo store locator and they have ten locations now in Washington. They have a huge selection at all price points. Costcos abound there as well and they have a nice selection of wines to go with a somewhat limited selection of beers and spirits all at reasonable prices. What I think we are hearing is the typical belly aching that you get whenever there is a change.

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