PLCB Privatization Gutted

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is reporting that the Pennsylvania plan to eliminate the PLCB has failed and has been replaced by a plan to let beer distributors sell wine.

The House Liquor Control Committee, controlled by Republicans, today scrapped Republican Turzai’s wide-ranging but controversial bill and instead passed a radically different bill that would let the state’s 1,200 beer distributors sell wine to the public while the liquor stores continue.

The “gut and replace” amendment, as it is called, was proposed by Rep. John Taylor, R-Philadelphia, who said he couldn’t support Mr. Turzai’s plan to eliminate the LCB’s 620 stores and lay off its 3,800 unionized workers.

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  • palvar

    Asinine.

  • http://www.lewbryson.com Lew Bryson

    I’d like Representative John Taylor to explain to the citizens of Pennsylvania — not just his constituents, but all of us — why he put forth an amendment that gutted the privatization bill that was up for consideration, and replaced it with this zombie bill of chunks and rotting bits, turning Pennsylvania into a half-assed mash-up of New York, Virginia, and Utah. He has succeeded in “crafting” a bill that NO ONE can support. Way to waste an opportunity.

  • ST

    Easy, UFCW pay off!

  • Willie

    AAAAARRRRRRRGGGGGGGHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!

  • J

    LOL WUT

  • ssi

    fucken unions

  • st. james

    If you live in this d-bags district http://www.reptaylor.com/ call and let him know that you will not be re-electing this union-tool! He sold you out!

  • jay

    Lou, Let’s assume for the moment that this wasn’t going to pass. Wouldn’t it be better to get something – wine in beer stores – than nothing? I’ve lived in Virginia, I find it to be a better situation than PA. Granted I don’t buy as much liquor as some people, but at what point is perfect the enemy of good (or at least better)?

    Maybe this is going to be an incremental fight.

  • Pedro Dias

    Look on the bright side: now you don’t have to watch the straight-up privatization bill go down in Hellfire flames. Because, lets face it, it was never, ever going to pass. The fact is, the reason everyone seemed to believe it had a shot this time – the economy – was in fact the reason it had absolutely no shot at going anywhere. Because privatization is a quasi-religious issue for Free Market fundamentalists, a pipe dream for poorly-informed wine snobs (and I guess beer snobs), and election-bait for primary season. Nothing else. Financially, the Commonwealth would have been giving up a substantial revenue stream, both from sales and taxes, for a (relatively) modest one-time windfall, plus sharply reduced future revenue. And – and this is important – *no one* has been able to nail down the various unknowns on the privatization side of that ledger, like the market value of the prospective licenses, or the effect on total sales and the tax receipts therefrom. So It would have been essentially a leap in the dark, and far too dangerous at a time of precarious finances.

    Oh, and while others may find the idea of turning thousands of middle-class PLCB employees into more of the retail-drone working poor our country seems to specialize in these days, I for one am quite happy that didn’t happen.

  • St. James

    Dick Dias,
    Nice try trotting out the same BS union party line. The fact is the vast majority of citizens support getting rid of the PLCB. Newsflass: this is a democracy.

    Meanwhile, your bought and paid for State Rep. Taylor has been exposed. He is a union tool, bought and paid for by labor and the BEER DISTRIBUTOR lobby (the only other group who gains anything from his bill).
    Look at it:
    http://www.followthemoney.org/database/StateGlance/candidate.phtml?c=124076

  • Pedro Dias

    “Dick” would be short for “Richard”, not “Pedro”, Mr. St.Anonymous.

    Couple of points: no idea what the Union line is, but if it’s what I posted, then it’s jes’ the facks, Ma’am.

    As for the whole “Democracy” hoo-HAH… Well, clearly, not so much, yes? As far as I can tell, most of the voters flat-out don’t care; some urban blowhards want the PLCB gone, gone, gone, with a bizarre intensity; and some part of the Commonwealth hinterlands apparently supports the Board’s mission to keep booze *away* from people.

    But I’d like to make a point about those urban folks with the intense feelings: they’re dumb. Let’s face it, if the PLCB were effectively crushing our beer-lovingness, Philadelphia ought not to be known as a great beer city – and it is. As for wine, well, *that* I know about: it is true that the PLCB can be difficult to work with (though if you bother to learn how to, they can morph into an amazing resource. I’d hate to lose them). But the plain fact is that they are *not* the only resource we have, since many, if not most, online retailers now ship to my door, with new ones doing so every day. But opponents of the PLCB invariably construct their arguments as if the alternatives were the worst State Store that’s ever existed, or a Boozy Nirvana that doesn’t exist anywhere: I’ve had much worse customer experiences with “free-market” wine shops than I’ve ever had at the PLCB. But the fact is that in a wired, ship-anywhere world we can have both, and I for one want both.

    Now, try sticking to the arguments a bit, and can the invective, will you?

  • JTA

    RE: Shipping Wine in PA

    So I’ve tried to sign up for Wine Clubs on vacation before and always get the comment that you can’t ship wine to PA. I’ve always heard that this isn’t the case and you can have direct shipping from out of state, and did find a PSU paper (http://law.psu.edu/_file/PA_Wine.pdf) that details what you have to do to have wine shipped to you here in PA. Relevant section below

    “Under Pennsylvania’s current statute, local wineries would be permitted to ship
    directly to consumers, while a separate system exists for special orders from out-of-state
    wineries. The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) allowed state residents to order
    directly from out-of-state wineries, over the Internet, only if state stores do not carry those
    wines. The wineries must apply for a free shipping license, and customers are limited to
    one case per month and must pick up the wines at a PLCB store rather than have them
    sent to their homes.”

    So when you feed this information back to wineries you still get a lot of feedback that the winery doesn’t have the license, and are waiting to see what the legislature does next year. There is a page on the LCB website that can help a bit (http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt?open=514&objID=611781&mode=2) , but the portal the Direct Wine Shipper list is very wonky. 3 of the links I’ve tried this morning just don’t work.

    Overall, I do enjoy the unique booze culture that has sprung up in PA, but I think that some modernization wouldn’t hurt the economy or the consumer. Beer has been rolled out to Wegman’s and Whole Foods, and it has not caused the end of the world for distributor’s or bottle shops. I wonder why no one has done impact studies for these types of changes? I wonder why the legislature supports wine in beer distributors, but wouldn’t support it in grocery stores?

  • st. james

    You really got nothing?? Ignore the fact that Rep. Taylor is a corrupt tool of Labor and the Beer Dist lobby. The State should not be in the liquor business. Period. There is no valid argument. The State should regulate, not control. Maybe the State should also be the sole source of gasoline?? Then you retard UFCW cashiers would have other job options.

  • Pedro Dias

    Given that I agree with none of your premises, no, I should have nothing to say. Because “Nyah nyah nyah!” would be immature.

    But, in order: the distribution of Taylor’s donor contributions hardly persuades me that he is anyone’s “tool”.

    The State “should” be in whatever business they are directed by statute to be in – in this case, I *like* that the Commonwealth is in the wine business, since it works in my favor as a wine consumer. You do realize all this is a matter of *taste*, right? Not Natural Law, not Gospel According To St. Ayn Rand.

    As it happens, I do believe the State ought to deregulate gasoline, and quit subsidizing driving to the absurd degree that it does – funny that you don’t.

    And again: my *only* relationship with the PLCB is as a consumer. I don’t even count any employees as acquaintances, let alone anything closer.

  • jay

    Pedro,
    How does being a wine consumer work in your favor with the PLCB? I find going to Moore Brothers to be a much better/easier experience when I don’t know what wine I want. I also find that places like Joe (Canal?, I’m blanking on the name), offer me better prices when I do know what I want

  • Pedro Dias

    All true. But the ways in which the PLCB is different from a traditional retailer create opportunities, in any number of ways, of which the Chairman Selectiona are the most obvious, but *very* far from the only one. And – and this is the obvious point that usually gets obscured in these arguments – I’m still one bridge away from Moore Bros., Canal’s, Total Wine and the rest. And then there are the auction websites, and the various e-retailers, and… Point is, all of these do different things for me, and I’d hate to lose any of them. PLCB included.

  • barryg

    Can you list any consumer benefits besides the Chairman’s Selections?

  • Crystal

    Unfortunately, it’s not actually legal to have wine (or any other alcohol) shipped to you from anyone other than the state stores. And even that is a new allowance designed to gain favor from the public, not to be used in any practical way (costs twice as much, requires ID and signature upon delivery, beer still not allowed).

  • Pedro Dias

    @barryg: Sure! The PLCB’s pricing policy adds a flat percentage to their cost, so contrary to public perception many of their regular prices are actually crazy good – and they don’t change with the vagaries of the market. And while folks tend to treat their local store as the effective horizon of utility, I tend to use the whole system, and taken as a whole it’s a huge resource, with all sorts of cool surprises hidden away. Again, I’d hate it if it were my only source, but it’s pretty fun to have *in addition* to other retailers.

    @Crystal: that’s not actually that simple. The law may still be on the books, but the Commonwealth is precluded by the Court’s decision from enforcing it. And the fact is that places will ship it, and I will drink it. And I feel pretty okay about it. As a point of order, the “costs twice as much” means “twice as much as having it shipped to a State Store”. But it’s still pretty cheap compared to other retailers’ shipping charges.

  • barryg

    @Pedro, the prices are ok on some items. Can you explain the “cool surprises” of the system? Maybe you mean the competency of employees and wine storage, which can vary wildly from location to location. If we had privatized liquor stores, of course, you could still utilize the “whole system” of liquor stores statewide and maybe even find some other “cool surprises” like cusomter-focused stores.

  • Pedro Dias

    Prices can be a whole lot better than “okay”, on occasion. Asimov did a column on txakolina last year. I did a bit of compare-and-contrast, and PLCB prices were *much* better than NY’s. So, as an example, from another conversation, elsewhere:

    “All the recent talk about PLCB prices and such put a bee in my bonnet about the subject, so I thought I’d start a thread to gather in one place the random instances of especially good pricing I run into.

    In today’s NYT, Asimov writes about Txakolina, the Basque easygoing, Summer-drinking wine appellation. A Product Search revealed that the State has very little in stock (as in just the one, and that one not the newest vintage, which is preferred – the newest vintage is, however, available through SLO) but a decent lineup of SLO choices:

    http://www.lcbapps.lcb.state.pa.us/webapp/Product_Management/psi_ProductListPage_Inte r.asp?selTyp=&selTypS=&selTypW=&selTypA=&searchCode=&searchPhrase=txakolina&CostRange =&selSale=&strFilter=&prevSortby=BrndNme&sortBy=Price&sortDir=DESC

    Interestingly, the list matches Asimov’s on several points, so price comparison is easy and instructive: turns out we win pretty big. Almost all items are cheaper in Pennsylvania than in poor, sad, free-market New York. The one exception I spotted, the Xarmant, which is also the least expensive, is a half-dollar more here, $15.49 versus $15. Some, like the single red, Gorrondona Bizkaio Txakolina (#40877), are big bargains, at $18 versus $28. Because it’s still the PLCB, it’s not quite that easy, though: SLO order minimum on that one, and most others, is a full case, so you may want to split it with a friend. The one listed wine which does not carry a case minimum, the Jakue, is also, at $22.99, the most expensive. And, I suspect, not such a bargain, though it’s not on Asimov’s list.”

    As you can see, it’s a mixed result: for the average consumer, the story ends at the fact that the PLCB doesn’t have much txakolina on the shelves. But for me, it works in other ways, and that balances things out.

    This is just one example, and other similar exercises yield even less clear-cut outcomes. Bottom line is, the system is flawed. But it has many, many strengths. And no, if the system were privatized, the various retailers would be independent units, and I could not use them as I do the PLCB.

  • TWG

    The prices on txakolina are great, IF you buy by the case. Sure there is some good stuff in the catalog typically SLO (case purchase).
    Maybe you get the occasional bargain from the PLCB compared to NYC retail, but prices in restaurnats are way higher with Phila at 4x retail and NYC at 2x.

  • Pedro Dias

    Actually, restaurant prices vary widely in both cities, and the legal set-up that creates the PLCB is also the reason for our thriving BYO culture. I could never afford to eat (and drink) out in NYC as I do in Philly.

    And no, txakolina is meant one example among many, and most of the PLCB good deals are not SLO. SLO prices are typically high, though there are some odd reasons why they are occasionally very low.

  • jay

    I think, Pedro, that all in all, YOU, Pedro Dias, would save more money without the PLCB than with it (I don’t think NYC pricing is perhaps the most fair comparison either, but I stipulate that you’ll find bargains with the purchasing power). There would be trade-offs though, that much is obvious, and I think you’d net-net spend less on wine with access to a free market in PA.

    I know, Pedro, that the average consumer would spend a lot less without the PLCB AND have a better shopping experience (or at least have more stores than currently where there are knowledgeable people there to help you).

    I’m not completely on Lew’s side of this argument, but I think you’d be in the distinct minority of both wine geeks and wine know-nothings, in preferring this system.

  • Pedro Dias

    I cannot stress enough that my argument is *not* that I prefer this system, though in fact I have come to like it very well: it is, instead, that that is a false choice. I have *both*, and trust me, I drink far above my station as a result. I know I would not save money without it, because research my costs, and do have other sources.

    As for “the average consumer”, I am sure you’re right. I have found using the PLCB vastly rewards research and legwork, and it is unlikely most would bother. And yes, many drunken, boisterous yet friendly arguments have clearly established that I am in a minority of, as of now, precisely one. I like that, since many of the best bargains are often in short supply.

  • jay

    I think I get your argument a little better now – but you’re still wrong. You conclude that “the free market” I.E. NJ and Delaware would provide the same bargains that an unrestricted PA would have but of course that’s not what would happen.

    Yes, some specific bargains would close to you if the PLCB closed. But some new bargains DIFFERENT than PLCB or NJ or DE would open up. On balance you’d be better off. So unless your most favorite vintner in the whole world has an exclusive deal with PLCB and you’ll never get to drink that wine again, I don’t think your argument holds up.

  • ThatsBetter

    The comments are a refreshing adult debate concerning a volatile issue. Congrats to the commentators for coming across as educated and willing to consider the other persons opinion. I wish more comment sections would be like this one instead of childish prattle. Keep this type reporting up Foobooz, it’s refreshing

  • Pedro Dias

    @Jay: Well, no, not really: my assumption is indeed that given the number of Free Marketeers available to me (NJ, Delaware, NYC, but also, vitally, the whole of the InterWebz) I am *already* getting access to most of what the Invisible Hand is passing out, evidence being how often the same offers reach me from separate places. But the more important fact is that the PLCB, because it is different *in kind* from private retailers, creates different opportunities that would be unlikely to be replicated. As an example, the Chairman Selections program exists because of the sheer size of the PLCB, and would, at best, be diluted and atomized in privatization.

  • jay

    Well we’re going back and forth at this point and you acknowledge that this is only really good for Pedro and not for everyone else. But I can say categorically that the exact deals you get from the PLCB will not be replicated. I can also say categorically that different deals would be available with the free market in Pennsylvania. Those deals would “reward you” as you say for looking a little harder, doing your research, etc. It is extremely likely that those deals would end up saving you more money than you currently spend, but I suppose it’s not 100% guaranteed. But it’s not like the exact same deals that you currently can get in New Jersey will just appear in PA thus not really doing you any good. That’s not how markets work.

    In any event, you acknowledge that this isn’t good for everybody, just good for you. I’m sorry but that’s not how democracy should work.

    As for the unions would the jobs REALLY just disappear? If I’m a new wine store owner in PA, won’t I want to hire an experienced PLCB person? Not everyone will be hired and some may not make the exact same amount of money, but on balance aren’t roughly the same amount of jobs going to appear that were let go?

  • Pedro Dias

    There’s no way a retailer will match the total compensation package Union government workers get. Or even come close. PLCB employees would take it on the chin if forced to move to the private sector – which is why that was never in the cards, they were offered relocation within the Commonwealth workforce. And the numbers would probably be many fewer, even so.

    As for the rest, I use the private sector extensively, and the PLCB. It’s just simply the case that what I get from each is very different, and I see no reason privatization would yield a different outcome. Moreover, as far as I can tell, retailers tend to compete by trying to outdo each other in a narrow range of categories, or to find specialty niches where they don’t need to compete. So I’m perennially surprised at how little market forces tend to do for me, all things considered.

  • blee357

    I’d just like to point out that PAWineTalk is an online community comprised of many, many people with purchasing inclinations similar to Pedro’s.

  • St. James

    1) why on earth should the taxpayers of PA subsidize the ridiculous wages and PENSIONS of UFCW cashiers?? These are not skilled positions.

    2) the notion that the state should be the regulator and the purveyour, with max profit as a motive, of alcohol is ludicrous.

    neither of these two points can be refuted in any legitamacy.

  • Pedro Dias

    @St.Jimmy:

    Sure I can!

    Wait for it…

    Wait…

    “No.”

    See? All done.

    Do try to grasp that Atlas Shrugged is *fiction*, not scripture or statute. And really bad fiction at that.

    And @Blee357:

    Nah. Even on PaWineTalk I’m a definite outlier. They’re nice people, for one thing. And most of the folks there make the best of what they still see as a bad thing. Given that many are Pittsburgh-based, it makes some sense, since they have fewer bricks-and-mortar options to supplement the PLCB.

  • St. James

    Exactly. You have NO answer for either point.

    Those UFCW cashiers are not entitled to statue supported lifestyle that far exceeds their value. That money would be better spent on Medicaid, teachers, fire, or police. Anything of value. You know, the kind of things the state is supposed to provide?

  • Pedro Dias

    Oh, for…

    No answer is required. Unless you’re looking for “There there, lil’ St.James. There there. The mean Union members can’t hurt you.”

    Fact is, you don’t like it. Fine. What the Hades do you want from the rest of us? I like that they make a decent living. I like that people with gnarled stanky hideous debased souls like… Well, that spiritually unattractive people don’t get to make this decision, as it’s turned out. I say “Yay!” You say something else. It’s not really a topic for debate, since you have provided no *reasoned* argument. “They oughtn’ta!” isn’t an argument.

    Look at it this way: you have argued that a) the fact that the PLCB generates an income for the Commonwealth shouldn’t be an argument for its involvement in what you see as a properly private field of enterprise (why properly private? I have no idea, strikes me you don’t either); and b) the taxpayers shouldn’t support the incomes of PLCB employees.

    Now, do you see how a) and b) are logically incompatible? No? I’m not surprised.

  • Bob

    @ Pedro Dias,

    The state store system is not consumer friendly in many ways. In some ways, like you point out it is, but you are in a very small minority of a very well educated consumer who knows how to reap the benefits you can find in the PLCB system, and is comfortable with the limitations it presents as well.

    I’ll bet most consumers in PA don’t know an SLO from a Listed Item. They don’t want to order by the case, let alone know how to navigate the PLCB website to find what they are looking for. Many people are not as knowledgeable on wine as you, and they would just like to go into a store and speak to a reasonably knowlegeable sales person to point them in the right direction for a bottle of wine that they’d like to have with dinner that evening, for example.

    This is why many people were very pleased with the idea of Privatization. Not because of the reasons you listed, “Because privatization is a quasi-religious issue for Free Market fundamentalists, a pipe dream for poorly-informed wine snobs (and I guess beer snobs), and election-bait for primary season.”

    It is a big let down to a lot of people that it isn’t going to go down the way they had hoped and people just want to lament that fact.

  • Pedro Dias

    @Bob,

    True, and fair criticism, and I really could stand to be nicer about it. But I got turned around because I was having two conversations at once: in one, I was presenting my perspective, and pointing out that there are limited ways in which, for some of us, this outcome is not entirely (or at all) a bad thing.

    And then I was having a conversation with those in our midst who insist on misrepresenting the issue as a financial one, or who seem to relish unfairly trashing the PLCB staff, or who just plain like to low like tri-banded steers. Should have worked harder to keep the two separate. Particularly since nice is in no way my natural state.

  • Rob

    There are so many things wrong with the State of Pennsylvania running a retail operation, but the glaring issue that seems to jump out (at least to me) is that our state government is operating a retail business! As such they are not in a position to act fairly upon any issue associated with this industry. I realize this is all about the all mighty dollar, and our states dependence on the revenue it makes acting as a retail operation. That said, the unions, the wholesalers, and the beverage industry lobbyists are all as equally dependent on this system that our state government has no right being in.

    So to the union members that work in the stores, drive the trucks, work in the warehouses for the LCB I say too bad. As stated many times above in earlier posts they are making substantially more than the industry calls (nationally), and are reaping the benefit of a state plan that is impacting all other forms of state and local level government employees.

    Strictly from a consumer point of view the system also stinks. Where I live you cannot buy a single decent bottle of wine. The people working in the stores know zilch about the items they sell, nor the varietals they work with. I can hop in my car, be in Delaware in 30 minutes and have a selection of hundreds and thousands of bottles of wine sold to me by knowledgeable sales people. Not to mention the 10 minute drive over the bridge to Moore Brothers. There is not one LCB run store in this state that can compare. None. Prices? Seriously, I don’t care about what Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi is on sale. I would, and I would wager this is applicable to most people, much rather have a superior selection then come across a few decent bottles on sale every once in a while.

    And don’t even get me started on direct to consumer shipping…

  • st. james

    Oh Pedro, you still can’t address two simple questions. Spin and re-spin.

    Guess that is why you are so concerned with keeping you over paying taxpayer funded cashier position. God forbid you have to compete with the real world.

  • st. james

    State Rep. John Taylor- Funded by Labor and the Beer Distributor lobby: http://www.followthemoney.org/database/StateGlance/candidate.phtml?c=124076