Liquor Privatization: The Cure for Power Plays and Tax Hikes

Get ready to pay more for alcohol in state stores. The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) is set to use its newly acquired power—via Act 39—to raise the price of the state’s most popular brands of wine and liquor.

New prices will take effect as early as August 28. The PLCB has given suppliers the option to reduce costs before implementing the new price structure. Of course, this doesn’t mean suppliers have the capacity to do so. Not to mention: The PLCB should not be able to offer this type of ultimatum in the first place. But in Pennsylvania, it’s par for the course.

Price increases aren’t the only changes that should have Pennsylvanians concerned. The PLCB’s alleged treatment of vendors during this process has reportedly been less than fair. Kevin Zwick of the Tribune-Review paints the troubling picture:

Terri Cofer Beirne, eastern counsel with The Wine Institute, an advocacy group for California wineries, said there is a direct connection between the products whose supplier didn't negotiate a discount with the PLCB and a price increase.

She called it “unsettling.”

Some of her members who refused to negotiate a discount with the PLCB received letters about a price increase on their products while those who negotiated received no letter, she said.

This is yet another reason to dismantle—not “modernize”—the commonwealth’s liquor monopoly. The liquor modernization experiment has been tried and failed to meet expectations. And while Act 39 instituted some positive reforms, it fell short of full privatization.

Privatization is the only way to end the liquor agency’s hold over the market. Allowing private companies to sell and distribute alcohol would increase competition among retailers and keep consumers in Pennsylvania.

Hopefully this most recent PLCB decision won’t be lost in the budget saga, which now features a Senate plan to raise taxes by more than a half billion dollars. Privatization should be seen as an alternative to the Senate’s disappointing proposal.

Several different House bills offer a source of recurring revenue without raising taxes. The sale of license fees—and their annual renewal—would generate this new revenue. If privatization plans were adopted and coupled with a reduction in PLCB operating expenses, it would result in a net gain for the state—a highly preferable alternative to tax increases.

Given the tremendous shortfalls of the PLCB in providing consumers with lower prices and greater options, privatization is a commonsense idea.

And although privatization won’t solve the state’s litany of challenges, it can provide temporary relief and protect working people from undertaking an even greater tax burden.