The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Robin L. Quillon

July 17, 2011

ROBIN L. QUILLON | Last call for state-run liquor stores

— Plain and simple, the state needs to get out of the hooch-selling business.

Selling wine and liquor is not the purpose of state government. Besides that, the government should not compete with the private sector.

Everyone knows the government will never, ever be able to run a business as well as hard charging, free-thinking entrepreneurs.

Any businessperson knows there is a huge difference between “market share” and “monopoly.” The first requires hard work, blood, sweat and tears. The second does not.

One goes out of its way to please the customer with excellent service, price and selection. The other shrugs its shoulders with contempt, secure in the knowledge you have no other choice.

The state enjoys a legislatively endorsed monopoly on the sale of liquor and wine.

And a business monopoly of anything by any entity is un-American. Why? Because no matter how you slice it, when one entity controls the price, selection and distribution of any widget, the customers lose.

When the privatization of the liquor stores happens, and it should, price, selection and customer service will improve dramatically. And that will translate to more tax revenues for the state coffers.

If a businessperson desires greater market share, he or she must please the customer.

Right now, if you don’t like your liquor store service, price, hours of operation, selection, employees, convenience of store location or condition, what choice do you have?

Absolutely none!

It’s like going to the DMV or any other government-run operation. And we all have had experiences dealing with some state employees who just don’t care. They know you have to deal with them regardless of the service they provide. The free, open marketplace where competition rules is very proficient at weeding out poorly run businesses. Again, market share versus monopoly – big difference.

I agree with Steve Miskin, spokesman for House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny County, who said, “We have an opportunity to move Pennsylvania out of the post-Prohibition era by allowing the private sector to sell wine and spirits.”  

As we reported, the majority of House Republicans and Gov. Tom Corbett have supported this bill, which they touted as an economic windfall for Pennsylvania.

The proposal, introduced by Turzai, would sell off about 1,200 liquor store licenses to private owners and eliminate the state’s system of about 620 liquor stores.

The plan also would eliminate two state alcohol taxes – the 18 percent “Johnstown Flood Tax” and the 30 percent markup used by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, which owns and operates the state’s liquor system and enforces the state’s liquor laws – and replace them with a

volume-based tax.

Thirty-two states have successfully turned over liquor sales to private business with no major problems. In spite of the “sky will fall” naysayers, no rash of teenage drunken driv-ing ensued.

When privatization happens, I would wager there will still be stupid adults willing to straw-buy for teenagers as they do today. Look, trying to keep teenagers away from alcohol is very important, and the laws should be strictly enforced. It is illegal to sell alcohol to those under 21 – period.

However, the responsibility to educate children on the dangers of alcohol, or anything for that matter, belongs at home with Mom and Dad, not the nanny state.

I dare say cigarettes are, in the long term, more dangerous and costly to our youth and society than alcohol.

Someone once said that a monopoly is business at the end of its journey.

It’s high time for the state to get out of the hooch-selling business. Let the free market operate as it should.

Robin L. Quillon is the publisher of The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at rquillon@tribdem.com.

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