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The liquor debate: The pros and cons behind privatizing PA’s liquor system

In Featured by Flaherty & O'Hara

By Sue Gleiter |

Governor Tom Corbett is putting liquor privatization in Pennsylvania on the fast track.

On Wednesday, he announced a proposal that would get the state out of the business of selling booze and at the same time fund educational programs for school districts. The issues has been hotly debated on both sides of the fence.

Here’s a quick look at five reasons why supporters say privatization is a good thing, and five reasons why opponents say it’s not such a good idea.

Five reasons why privatization is a good thing:

Improved Convenience: Pennsylvania residents have been saying it for years – they just want to purchase a bottle of Chardonnay at the nearest Giant Food Store or Weis Markets like it’s done in other states. Privatizing the state’s liquor store system would open up sales to include convenience stores, pharmacies, supermarkets and big-box retailers such as Costco. Better yet, shoppers could purchase Yuengling and Yellow Tail under one roof.

Get out of Business: For the core moral reason the state should get out of the business of selling booze. It should be a private industry. Private industry tends to run business better than government. Remember the ill-fated wine kiosks?

Financial Boost: Selling off the state’s liquor stores will provide a boost to the state coffers. In this case, school districts would benefit under Corbett’s proposal calling for $1 billion toward state education through the sale of mostly liquor licenses.

Better Prices: Proponents say increased competition – and, more stores selling alcohol — will lead to better prices on everything from Bordeaux to bourbon.

Better Selection: Ever go to New Jersey or Maryland and find a wine not sold in Pennsylvania? More stores selling and more competition will create increased selection.

Five reasons why liquor privatization is a bad thing:

Public safety: Opponents say under a privatized system will see increased incidents of drunken driving and underage drinking. And, what about the idea of a 17-year-old behind the counter of the local convenience store carding shoppers and selling six packs of beer?

Less Selection: Opponents say compared to the thousands of bottles available for sale through the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board system, a shelf at the local WaWa will offer only a minimal selection relegated to a few brands of beers due to limited space.

Price Hikes: Washington state shoppers are crying out after the state privatized its hard liquor sales last year. Many are complaining that prices are higher than ever before due to taxes, and many shoppers are heading across state’s borders for their rum and whiskey purchases at lower prices.

The Profits: The LCB makes about $2.1 billion in sales annually, and transfers $494 million in profits and taxes to the state treasury. It would be better to modernize the current system by increasing Sunday hours, selling more Pennsylvania wines and allowing for the direct shipment of wine into the state.

Job Loss: The United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1776 boasts a huge rallying cry, as it supports some 3,000 store employees who under a privatized system would lose jobs. They LCB employs about 5,000 people.

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