The Commonwealth Foundation strongly condemned the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board today for failing to listen to advisors and covering up interagency memos recommending against a failed wine kiosk program that has cost Pennsylvania taxpayers millions.
According to memos uncovered by House Majority Leader Rep. Mike Turzai’s office, an evaluation committee reviewing Simple Brands, a company whose investors contributed more than $400,000 to former Gov. Ed Rendell’s election campaigns, recommended strongly against contracting with the company. The committee scored the proposal only 305.57 out of 1,000 points on their criteria.
Despite attempts to stop directors from making unsound business decisions, the PLCB pressed on with the wine kiosk program and awarded Simple Brands, the only company to bid, a contract to build the kiosks. Consumers and businesses have roundly rejected the program due not only to its use of Orwellian breathalyzers and cameras, but its inconvenience and unreliability.
“If a business fails to meet consumer needs, ignores advisor’s findings, wastes stockholder money by the millions and covers up bad business practices and insider trading, that company and its officers would and should be out of business,” said Jay Ostrich, director of public affairs for the Commonwealth Foundation. “The PLCB said it wants to run like a company and taxpayers as the primary shareholders should take them up on it by removing their shares, divesting this failure and investing their money in freedom and free markets.”
The memos show that not only did the PLCB ignore recommendations against contracting with Simple Brands, they also attempted to hide any evidence this recommendation ever existed. In a series of e-mails obtained by Rep. Turzai’s office, an assistant counsel with the PLCB told members of the evaluation committee:
In the meantiem [sic], ASAP, please provide me with any and all hard copies of any and all versions of the wine kiosks RFP Board Recommendation each of you may have in your possession. …
Please also delete all electronic copies of the recommendation to the Board.
“This proves, once again, that government will always fail in its attempts to mimic the benefits of free markets,” said Ostrich. “Getting government out of the booze business not only restores freedom to consumers and taxpayers, it restores integrity, accountability and sanity into an absurd and wasteful system.”
In June, grocery store chain Wegmans dropped the wine kiosks from all its stores because they were deemed a detriment to the business. Last week, the PLCB revealed they may terminate the wine kiosk contract claiming Simple Brands overbilled them and owes the state $1 million.
“While some in our government contemplate taking handcuffs off a government system so they can fail at a much greater level, consumers and taxpayers are begging their leaders to take the handcuffs off their freedom to shop for a legal commodity in a competitive market,” said Ostrich.
This latest fiasco comes on the heels of a Pa. Auditor General report finding more than $66 million in taxpayer money was spent on a failed inventory system that created shortages, then surpluses in wine and champagne that cost more than $500,000 in taxpayer money to guard and store excess in non-temperature-controlled containers.
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The Commonwealth Foundation (CommonwealthFoundation.org) is Pennsylvania’s free-market think tank that crafts free-market policies, convinces Pennsylvanians of their benefits, and counters attacks on liberty. For more information, please contact Jay Ostrich, CF director of public affairs at 717.649.6547.