State Liquor Control’s Coalition of the Ludicrous

The following is a Philadelphia Inquirer editorial from March 26, 2013:
‘Why would you ever vote for something that ludicrous?” State Rep. Mike Sturla’s question last week was an excellent one if turned on its asker, who was engaged in a vigorous defense of Pennsylvania’s deeply ludicrous wine and liquor monopoly.

Government liquor control has been repudiated by more than 60 percent of Pennsylvanians, more than 70 percent of regular State Store customers, and exactly 96 percent of these United States. And yet, somehow, 100 percent of Sturla’s fellow Democratic state representatives voted to perpetuate the state booze ministry.

A somewhat softened version of Gov. Corbett’s privatization plan passed the House despite their efforts. Now it goes to the state Senate, where, ludicrously enough, even some Republicans seem prepared to vote for liquor control. Although the latest privatization debate has gone on for years – and is only the latest of several pushes to dismantle the Prohibition-era system – Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R., Delaware) noted puzzlingly that the issue had not been a matter of “active interest and discussion” in his chamber.

Pileggi added, “I think the focus should be on what the system would deliver to the citizens of Pennsylvania.” He is right about that, and any honest assessment on that score will favor a free market. As Corbett has said, the most compelling rationale for privatization is that it would lead to more competition, convenience, and choice for consumers. That’s why nearly half the residents of Philadelphia and its Pennsylvania suburbs admit breaking the law to buy wine and liquor out of state.

Yes, liquor control exceptionalists have advanced other theories of how the system benefits the citizens of Pennsylvania (apparently in ways the citizens of 48 other states fail to understand). But the Liquor Control Board’s alleged benefit to the state treasury relies heavily on high alcohol taxes that would be collected anyway, as well as an artificial, across-the-board markup. And the agency’s contradictory efforts to limit the harm of the products it sells are simply not detectable in state data on alcohol-related injury and disease.

Perhaps that’s why some LCB loyalists simply break with reality altogether to make patently absurd claims about privatization – for example, that it “has the potential to destroy small businesses and ravage communities,” as Rep. Margo Davidson (D., Delaware) put it.

Such claims expose the LCB lobby’s arguments for what they are: desperate efforts to rationalize a rearguard defense of the State Store union and other special interests with disproportionate influence in Harrisburg. Otherwise, why indeed would anyone ever vote for something as ludicrous as the state liquor monopoly?