The stakes are high.
Pennsylvania is on the verge of joining 32 other states that have ended their state's monopoly over the wholesaling and retailing of wine and spirits. Gov. Tom Corbett's privatization initiative has already resulted in the Pennsylvania State House passing a bill that may soon become law.
Advocates of Corbett's plan claim privatization will give more freedom of choice to consumers, eventually making access as easy as your nearest convenience store. It also promises to fill the state coffers with proceeds from the auctioning off of the state stores, with proceeds benefitting public schools, among others.
Join me today - Tuesday, May 7, 2013 at 7 p.m. - on WMCN's "Dom Time." I'll be discussing liquor privatization with Wendell W. Young IV, president of Local 1776 of the United Food and Commercial Workers union. Host Dom Giordano will moderate. [Viewers can call in their questions to 1-866-472-8868 or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.]
Successfully bringing privatization to Pennsylvania could also give Corbett a sorely-needed boost to his currently sagging reelection campaign.
But opponents to the proposal say it would leave state store workers jobless and would even encourage more alcoholism, drunk drivers, violence and perhaps even death. They also contend the break-up of the government-run system will reduce liquor tax revenues that are so sorely needed to keep our state running.
Both sides say their side will bring much-needed revenue to the state. Both sides say the other side's policies would lead to increase alcohol consumption and would be likely to increase social problems associated with excessive consumption.
Adam Lang, a local "good government" activist from the Brewerytown-Sharswood neighborhood, sees a conflict of interest in the state being involved in the sale of alcohol. "A good rule of thumb is "separate the steering from the rowing," Lang told me, adding, "It is more effective to have the regulatory body separate from the entities that are being regulated. We don't trust business to regulate itself and nor should we trust government to as well."
But Marc Stier, a writer and activist from Mount Airy, opposes privatization – primarily for two reasons. "There is no way to do it without either (a) raising taxes on alcohol by about 40 percent or (b) blowing a yearly $300 million hole in the state budget. Our system may be a little strange, but we receive far more revenue from alcohol sales than any comparable state," Stier told me. "Our liquor control system reduces the consumption of alcohol probably by roughly 5-10 percent and that reduces the death and injury toll that comes from auto accidents, murders, and sexual assault by roughly 3-5 percent a year. I think that benefit is worth a little inconvenience."
Pennsylvania is one of 18 remaining alcoholic beverage controlled states that still exercises a form of prohibition over its residents. Will that continue? Who is telling truths, and who is telling myths?