Fellow Pennsylvanians, please raise a glass of your favorite state-issued alcoholic beverage, or illegal New Jersey import of same, for a New Year's toast to the Liquor Control Board — namely, to its cockroach-like capacity to survive all disasters, most of them self-inflicted.
The LCB spent much of 2011 overseeing the slow-motion implosion of its latest attempt to mimic a legitimate business. Its "wine kiosks" — a small army of haywire adult vending machines deployed to the commonwealth's supermarkets — showed once again what everyone knew: that the post-Prohibition agency is just not very good at the most significant part of its job, which is facilitating the consumption of wine and spirits.
For a finale, though, the beverage ministry showed that it's also not very good at the other, diametrically different part of its job: hindering the consumption of wine and spirits. This disaster took the form of an advertising campaign apparently meant to promote responsible drinking, which ended up ham-handedly offering an excuse for sexual assault.
The lurid ad, showing bare female legs on a floor with panties around the ankles, suggested that rape can be blamed on women who have a few too many — rather than on the men who rape them. It was pulled this month amid a wholly justified uproar. And it revealed the same kind of gross incompetence in pursuit of a simple goal that characterized the decommissioned wine-droids.
After all that, and with a governor and legislative leaders already expressly dedicated to the privatization of liquor and wine sales, the bell would seem to be tolling rather loudly for the LCB. Right?
But just as the agency was raising the question of whether it's good at anything, it was answering it. And the answer was yes — it's good at perpetuating itself.
Led by Republican Rep. John Taylor of Philadelphia, the state House Liquor Control Committee voted unanimously this month to gut House GOP leader Mike Turzai's privatization bill. In its stead, it passed a bill that would allow beer distributors to sell wine, preserving the State Stores' liquor monopoly while doubling down on an overregulated beer market that is almost as bad for consumers. Worse, Turzai himself declared the new measure "progress."