Top 10 PLCB Boondoggles

Over the years, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) has survived multiple cycles of scandal, failure, and mismanagement. This is no surprise, as the quasi-government entity was initially created to, “discourage the purchase of alcoholic beverages by making it as inconvenient and expensive as possible.” The closures around COVID-19 are just the most recent example of the PLCB's incompetence—though this time Pennsylvanians were so desperate they were eventually banned by neighbor states from buying booze across state lines.

Here are the top 10 PLCB boondoggles from the last 15 years:

  1. Victim Blaming Ad Campaign: The PLCB’s infamously graphic “She couldn’t say no” sobriety ad campaign—that implied intoxicated rape victims were to blame for their own rape—brought national and international attention, and met with shock and ridicule as far away as the UK Daily Mail.
  2. Wine Shrine: The PLCB—with taxpayer dollars—outfitted a $35,000 wine tasting room, dubbed “the wine shrine,” complete with leather chairs, sofas and big-screen TVs to “educate palates” of Pennsylvania consumers.
  3. Wine Kiosks Won’t Work: Begun in 2009, the kiosks offered the opportunity to buy wine out of vending machines placed in grocery stores. Purchasers were required to blow into a public breathalyzer (imagine that in the Age of COVID!) and stare into a camera to verify their sobriety and identity. After horrid sales, customer complaints and frequent breakdowns that sparked an Auditor General investigation, grocery giants Wegmans and Wal-Mart pulled the plug.
  4. Inventory Fail: The PLCB poured $66 million in taxpayer money—nearly two-and-a-half times the estimated cost—into  a “state of the art” inventory system that failed to allocate adequate product levels, causing widespread shortages at retail outlets in 2010. This led to massive hoarding by store managers and, later, to over-ordering. Surplus inventory was stored in non-temperature-controlled trailers that cost an additional $500,000 and subjected heat sensitive merchandise to temperatures in excess of 100 degrees.
  5. Government Wine, PLCB Competes Against Pa. Small Biz: The PLCB created and heavily promoted the wine brand TableLeaf. The agency spent $7-10 million of our tax dollars on copyrighting, branding, and marketing this single in-house brand. And they have at least seven other government brands featuring more than 30 different products. Adding insult to injury, TableLeaf isn’t even a Pennsylvania wine—it’s a product of California. Imagine being a local winery owner, knowing your taxes are being used to fund your own competition!
  6. Government Liquor “CEO”: Gov. Rendell created the controversial CEO position in the 2007 for former State Senator Joe Conti. The PLCB’s Chairman at the time, Jonathan Newman, resigned in protest because he thought the position was unnecessary.
  7. Ethically Challenged Leaders: In 2014 the Pennsylvania State Ethics Commission found four former PLCB officials violated state ethics laws. Executives were showered with numerous gifts during their respective tenures including invitations to golf outings, sporting events, meals, lodging, and, of course, alcoholic beverages, many during work hours.
    • In 2015, former PLCB official Timothy Fringer illegally accepted a long list of gifts including strip club entertainment, Steelers tickets, Eagles tickets, World Series tickets and more.
  8. Special Liquor Order Fiasco: Three years ago the PLCB was supposed to allow private distributors to sell wines that aren’t available in state stores directly to restaurants via special liquor orders. In a recent court case and the plaintiffs were successful in finding PLCB never allowed private distributors to take over, a direct violation of the law. The illegal actions cost restaurants handling fees which, according to plaintiffs, totaled at least $10 million since June 1, 2017.
  9. Liquor Modernization AKA Secretive Price Hikes: In 2017, the PLCB announced it would arbitrarily raise prices on 422 wine and liquor products. This increase was a result of flexible pricing, part of the “liquor modernization” efforts—which have proven to be a financial flop. By May 2017, the Independent Fiscal Office, lowered its revenue forecast again, estimated modernization would generate only 29 percent of what the PLCB promised. 

Graph: Projected Revenue From Liquor Modernization

  1. COVID-19 Website Crash and Burn: Following the closure of stores due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the state-run liquor monopoly rolled out limited online sales, but the website was unable to keep up with demand. The PLCB implemented a lottery-like randomization to determine who was able to simply access the website. Initially only about 1 in 330 potential customers were successful.

As the economy begins to recover what could be more timely than offering scores of unemployed Pennsylvanians a new business opportunity? Lawmakers should jump at the chance to create new jobs without the overhead of an expensive and nonsensical bureaucracy prone to corruption.