PLCB arguments fail to convince

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A study published Monday by the New England Journal of Medicine revealed some hard evidence that the much-ballyhooed Mediterranean diet, which includes fish, olive oil, nuts, fruit, vegetables and, yes, wine consumed in moderation, plays a role in reducing heart disease.


So wouldn’t it make sense for Pennsylvanians to be able to conveniently purchase all of the components of this healthful diet under one roof? Of course they can’t right now because, unlike almost every other state in the nation, wine and liquor continues to be sold almost exclusively at stores operated by the commonwealth.


Gov. Tom Corbett has made a sensible proposal that Pennsylvania should get out of the alcohol business and turn licenses over to private vendors. That plan was at the center of testimony Monday before the state Senate’s appropriations committee in Harrisburg.


And it was not a red-letter day for advocates of maintaining the status quo.


First, Joseph Brion, the chairman of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, admitted to reporters that he personally supports Corbett’s privatization push, pointing out that “philosophically, I don’t believe that government should be in a private business.” But, he added, “That doesn’t mean I don’t do my job as chairman to earn as much money as we possibly can for the citizens of the commonwealth and run very efficient stores.”


But knowing that the primary advocate of a particular position doesn’t believe his own arguments doesn’t increase your confidence in them. And nothing Brion said, regardless of whether he believes it or not, made the liquor control board’s case more convincing.


He reiterated many of the points in the agency’s dubious “Convenience 2020” initiative announced in the fall. Finding that consumers want – surprise! – convenience, the PLCB wants to locate beer and wine stores closer to grocery stores, but, heaven forfend, not within the grocery stores themselves, and certainly not within grocery stores where the entire purchase can be handled at the same cash register.


“We are trying to move as close to grocery stores and supermarkets as possible,” Brion said. “It’s a win-win for everyone.”


The Associated Press pointed out that members of the state-store employee union, wearing yellow T-shirts and taking home paychecks and benefits far more generous than they would earn for comparable work in the private sector, packed into the hearing. Robert Marcus, another member of the PLCB, said that the talk of privatization has created a “morale issue” among employees. But just as taxpayers shouldn’t be asked to shell out for make-work jobs, they shouldn’t feel compelled to maintain the state store system out of sympathy for its employees.


As we pointed out at the unveiling of “Convenience 2020,” this alleged “win-win” has the stink of the Soviet Union’s “perestroika” initiative in the 1980s – essentially, putting a smiling, friendly face on a system that is outmoded and sclerotic. But the citizens of the Soviet Union, and its satellite states, concluded that communism in prettier packaging was still communism, and the whole shebang ended up on history’s scrap heap in short order.


To be sure, Pennsylvania’s method of selling alcohol is not as pernicious as Soviet communism, but it’s just as rooted in the past and as pointless as Lenin’s Tomb. The time for it to be overthrown is long overdue.


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