Keystone State Goes Lite On Its Liquor Stores


Enthusiasm for abolishing Pennsylvania's Liquor Control Board (PLCB) and privatizing the state-run wine and spirits stores it operates is picking up steam, and privatizing legislation is supported by the Republican governor and majority in both houses. Privatization would generate billions in revenue for the waste-racked state budget, but that would be a mere bonus for consumers sick of state stores' abysmal selection. 

Privatization buzz has led, most recently, to offering wine in grocery stores in kiosks that promptly broke down and promises from the PLCB that it plans on "imitating" private retailers. Kicking funds back to communities to educate children in the dangers of their product is also a favored strategy. "Leave us alone" is the rallying cry of the booze board: Go ahead and take out some more loans; we'll pay them off in 20 years. Despite the apparent wisdom of spinning off the liquor business, the unionized state store clerks have the staying power of a Banker's Club hangover. Their most recent line of defense would really take the Maker's, if they had some in stock. From the Pennsylvania Independent:

Opponents of the privatization effort say the state-controlled stores do a better job of preventing sales to minors and running checks on the stores would be an unnecessary cost.

Wendell Young, president of United Food and Commercial Workers 1776, which represents the state liquor store employees, said state police run their operations to target establishments which sell to minors.  He argued complaints against state liquor stores are so rare as to make enforcement unnecessary.

"It's a question of limited resources and directing their efforts where the smoke is," said Mr. Young.  "The taxpayers of Pennsylvania should have to raise the budget to pay for stings where there is not an issue."

Mr. Young said state liquor store employees risk losing their jobs and benefits if they sell to minors, which is enough of an incentive to prevent it from happening.

As someone with an unquestioned case of babyface who has bought a few beers at both Pennsylvania bars and state stores, undercover compliance stings have mostly succeeded in cultivating a culture of carding at local saloons. Contrary to the UFCW's Mr. Young, though, state store clerks generally don't check ID. The greatest deterrent to underage purchasers tends to be personal familiarity with a clerk, as in, "Brad's mom is working, no Jack tonight." The numbers showing Pennsylvania's mediocre ranking in underage drinking rates bears this out.

More from Reason on boozing here.