Rep. Sims on Liquor Privatization: “This is the System We’re Stuck With”

pwcover0113During his Tuesday budget address, Gov. Tom Corbett reiterated his proposal to privatize Pennsylvania’s liquor monopoly and funnel the cash infusion thus produced straight to the school system. “I can think of no better use for the proceeds created by getting us out of a business we should never have been in than to put those dollars toward the essential responsibilities of state government,” he said. “That is why I have proposed that, as we phase the commonwealth out of the liquor business, we put that money toward education.”

As we noted last week, the administration estimates $1 billion would come from the sale of wine and spirits stores, in addition to revenue that would be generated by selling liquor licenses.

To many, Corbett’s suggestion makes sense. About 2/3 of Pennsylvanians, in most polls conducted on the issue, would like the state out of the industry. After all, we’re one of only two U.S. states in which the government controls the retail and wholesale of liquor. But the process of actually getting out of the business may be different—and much harder—than it sounds.

“Here is the truth of the matter,” says state Rep. Brian Sims (D-Philadelphia). “If you and I were going to sit down and rewrite our state’s constitution right now, we would never, ever put Pennsylvania in charge of selling liquor in the state. But it is so engrained in our system right now that I don’t think that selling it off for a billion dollars is going to see us recapture enough revenue in the long run to make it worthwhile.”

The governor’s plan has been rejected by the Pennsylvania State Education Association’s president, Mike Crossey, who argues that linking “liquor store privatization to school funding is just another way of holding students hostage to the governor’s political agenda.”

On the other side of the aisle, the conservative Commonwealth Foundation has endorsed Corbett’s plan, as they often do with his privatization proposals. “You would think that the Governor’s idea to dump $1 billion of the resulting revenue into public education would make the teachers unions jump for joy,” writes foundation president Matt Brouillette in an email blast. “It is evident that the only thing more important to the government union bosses than money is political power and ideological purity.”

Liquor privatization has been championed by a numerous state Republican legislators recently; Rep. Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) introduced a privatization bill last session, but it never came up for a vote. Meanwhile, we’re hard-pressed to find a Democrat who might even consider voting for state alcohol reform.

“You mean booze on every block?” rhetorically asks state Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia). “That should pretty much sum it up. According to estimations from folks in the industry, it would take about 2,000 locations where you can buy booze in some form or fashion, and expand it to about 20,000 locations, and that is unacceptable.”

Hughes makes an expanded alcohol market sound like Season 3 of The Wire, in which drugs are legalized on Vincent Street in Baltimore and everything goes to shit. “You’d have to increase enforcement capacity to monitor all these different locations, from every 7-11, every Rite Aid, every neighborhood store, every hole in the wall that figures out how to get a license. You’d have to police that and monitor that,” he says.

Then there’s the big elephant in the room: the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1776, whose members staff the state’s wine and spirits shops.

“[Privatization] almost virtually eliminates an entire union,” says Sims. “More than 5,000 really quality union jobs. And I think more importantly, the revenue that we see from the sales of liquor is just simply not going to be made up with one single sale. We get four, five, six years out, and then we have a massive budget gap again. And then what do we sell off to make up for that?

“I think this is the system that we’re stuck with,” he says.  “But the system has worked really well for us.”

8 Responses to “ Rep. Sims on Liquor Privatization: “This is the System We’re Stuck With” ”

  1. Aaron B says:

    I was withholding judgement on Sims. Although I was upset that he unseated Babbette, I thought hey maybe it’s time for a change. Now that he’s opened his mouth, I see that he’s as vapid as any Harrisburg insider.

    “This is the system that we’re stuck with”? Really?

    Granted you’re dealing with an entrenched system, but your solution is to just do nothing? You are a lawmaker, dude. You’re the one that wanted this job. Show some goddam creativity and write a new law – that’s what you’re getting paid for.

  2. Albert Brooks says:

    If sometime in the last 6 decades the legislature had a pair they would have followed the will of the people and not the contributions from labor and we wouldn’t be talking about this now.

    To help the Representative with his math there aren’t 5000 people who work for the PLCB and a good portion of them aren’t union members. Of the 5000 a third are part time.

    I suggest you take a trip to Joe Canal’s, Total Wine or Moore Brothers and then come back and tell us with a straight face that the “system has worked really well for us.”

  3. JohnRz says:

    http://www.glassdoor.com/Reviews/Total-Wine-and-More-Rev iews-E143216.htm Sure seems you care about real jobs for Pa. No matter if your an easy target for supermarket pyscohype or not, this is a bad deal for the Average taxpayer. With Wal-Mart being the largest private employers in the state who in their right mind would want to turn more employment over to big boxes? Sham wine “experts” will be selling you the company line. At least that is what those that work there say. Tell me, if you can lose your alcocentric world view for just a minute, how does privatization make for better communities? Waiting Albert.

  4. Albert Brooks says:

    Besides that there are more people employed in the industry in privatized states, that the citizens want it, that revenue to the state will increase, that the people of PA won’t be on the hook for future retirement and shortfalls, that it will make it easier for the consumer, that it will keep more taxes in the state by decreasing border bleed and will bring PA more in line with what the majority of states do (I know they are all wrong and only PA and Utah are right but what can I say) and that it gets rid of a system that shouldn’t be in place to begin with. Selling alcohol isn’t what government is for Regulating and Licensing it is.

  5. Albert Brooks says:

    Would these be the same sham wine experts selling me TableLeaf now or would they be new sham wine experts?

  6. Jordan Gwendolyn Davis says:

    Dear Democrats, we’ve got much more pressing concerns than cockblocking our access to libations. Just shut up and let privatization happen already.

  7. Ed says:

    We need to keep in mind that there will still be a need for the LCB. The fat-cats at the top will still have a job. They will regulate booze in the state.

    The only people that the Governor is hurting, are the little guys at the local level. So much for those jobs. How is Corbett going to pay 5,000 people unemployment?

  8. Alexander says:

    “If you and I were going to sit down and rewrite our state’s constitution right now, we would never, ever [allow slavery/prevent women from voting/allow Jim Crow segregation]. But it is so engrained in our system right now that I don’t think that [making changes] is going to see us recapture enough revenue in the long run to make it worthwhile.”
    “I think this is the system that we’re stuck with,” he says. “But the system has worked really well for us.”

    Can you see even fathom how ridiculously facetious such arguments appear if applied to other matters that government has involved itself in over the decades? Plantation owners saying “we’re stuck with slavery, but the state approves and it’s worked out really well for us”??? Or whites saying “yeah, blacks have it tough, but what are you gonna do? It’s what we’re stuck with, and it works out really well for us”??

    And I have heard the exact same specious arguments made for Social Security. And there are already folks trying to make the “it’s what we’re stuck with” argument for the Affordable Care Act/”Obamacare”.

    This is why those progressives of the “government does it better” ilk try so hard to force programs into existence: because history has shown, time and time again, that nothing endures more than a government spending/regulation program, even a hopelessly ineffectual or outdated one. And this is why “Tea Party” types try to stop it all, across the board.

    It’s not about the money, you fool. It’s about what’s right.

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