Liquor Law Is Ludicrous: It’s Way Past Time For State To Stop Selling Booze

Harrisburg Patriot-News

State government should not be in the business of selling alcohol.

The fact that Pennsylvania still has a monopoly on wine and spirits in the 21st century has nothing to do with government filling a need that can’t or shouldn’t be handled by the private sector. Instead, it has everything to do with powerful interest groups on all sides of the issue.

It seemed that with the election of Tom Corbett as governor and a Republican-controlled Legislature, the commonwealth would finally shed its outdated, inefficient and unnecessary alcohol monopoly. Instead, it increasingly looks like Pennsylvania will not join the vast majority of other states with consumer-focused systems run by private individuals and businesses.

House Majority Leader Mike Turzai has led the charge to replace the state’s antiquated system on philosophical and practical grounds. The latest version of those efforts, however, again keeps state government in the center of the liquor business.

The House Liquor Control Committee last week approved a bill allowing consumers to buy wine at beer distributors and supermarkets, but the measure does nothing to get Pennsylvania out of the business of selling booze. It takes the idea of selling liquor stores to the private sector off the table.

Also under the plan, if Giant Food Stores, for example, wanted a license to sell both beer and wine, it would be permitted to acquire only one of those licenses. Right now, Giant has a limited ability to sell beer if it gets a restaurant license, which is a silly hoop the state makes it jump through.

This is all so crazy. It makes sense only to those invested in the present system or those who have never lived or vacationed in a state without a government-run alcohol monopoly.

The real reasons for keeping the present system or making these types of changes has nothing to do with the control of alcohol. In general, the idea that grocery stores, for example, which sell uncovered fresh food and meats, have pharmacies and banks in their buildings, offer tobacco products and much more, can’t have more opportunities to sell wine and beer is absurd and based on outdated stereotypes and not reality. In fact, with their security systems and employee training they can probably do a better job than the state. Moreover, they don’t need separate buildings and entrances to do it as has been proposed in some legislation.

Nor should they have to make a decision about whether they can sell either gas on their premises or alcohol as some proposals also would require.

The current proposal is so ridiculous and has so many people opposing it, one might think the goal is to blow up any change and keep the present system in place.

On the surface, the proposed measure looks like it is about making sure those involved, such as beer distributors who spent a great deal on licenses, workers in the state stores who have benefits better than many of their private-sector counterparts and legislators who depend on campaign support from those vested in the status quo or one of the misguided proposed changes, are not hurt.

There are numerous ways to transition individuals and businesses to a modern and consumer-friendly system that minimizes individual pain. It just requires legislators to think about the future rather than preserving the past.

It is time, actually way past time, for the state to completely put the sale of alcohol in the hands of the private sector. Pennsylvania consumers deserve and should demand nothing less.

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