Hate Pa.’s Liquor Laws? Watch Fox29 Tonight
It’s not that Pa. doesn’t like booze. We do. And we want desperately to set it free. You probably do, too.
The wine kiosks were kind of a good idea, despite the fact that there’s only one, and it’s in Drexel Hill. But that was the extent of lawmakers’ and the Liquor Control Board’s attempts to improve our access to alcohol.
But access hasn’t really changed. We need liquor-law reform. In a recent PW cover story, “Set Booze Free,” writer Tom Cowell attacks our “disgraceful” laws:
If you’ve ever asked yourself: “Is it harder to buy booze here than anywhere else in nation?” The answer is a loud yes. There are 618 state-run stores in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. To put that number in perspective, there are more wine and spirits stores in the city of Chicago than there are in our entire state, despite Pennsylvania having four times as many people. A recent paper by two Wharton professors says Pennsylvania has the fewest liquor retailers per person than any state in the nation. We even have fewer stores today than we did in 2006.
So why don’t lawmakers bring our liquor laws out of the 1930s?
A heavily unionized workforce with hefty lobbying power has a lot to do with it. Wendell Young, whose Local 1776 represents the majority of front-line workers in the state stores, makes no secret of his union’s political influence.
“We’ve never denied that our first and primary concern is the job security of our members, and we will work very hard to support the system to support their livelihoods,” he says.
Straightforward government inertia also blocks legal reform; because the liquor code in Pennsylvania is so uniquely restrictive, even the smallest proposed changes are likely to enrage some special interest or constituency. Try to allow six-pack sales in supermarkets and the beer-distributor trade associations will attack. Try to open more stores on Sundays (the law today restricts it to only 25 percent of outlets) and the store managers’ union may protest that their membership prefers not to work through the weekend. Try to encourage more stores and a thousand constituents will scream “Not on my block.” As a legislator, it’s easier to skip the battles entirely. It seems a mismatched fight—a few special interests and their lobbyists against the overwhelming dissatisfaction of voters statewide.
Tom will be talking about all this and more tonight at 10 on Fox29.