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Pennsylvania's wine and spirits stores offer a good selection at competitive prices, support 4,500 family sustaining jobs, provide the state's taxpayers a guaranteed more than half a billion dollars every year, and help keep minors away from alcohol.

CDT's letter to the editor

February 10, 2011



To the editor:

The CDT’s Jan. 24 editorial calling for the sale of Pennsylvania’s Wine and Spirits stores is wrong on several points, because it relies on incorrect information circulated by privatization supporters.

First, we have a $2 billion myth.  State Rep. Mike Turzai thinks he can raise $2 billion to help close Pennsylvania’s $4 billion or more budget deficit.  However, even the most ardent privatization supporters concede that nothing can be done in time to help this year’s budget. 

To get $2 billion, the 850 licenses envisioned by Rep. Turzai would have to bring an average of more than $2.3 million.   But this is achieved nowhere in the country.  New Jersey licenses average around $250,000; West Virginia’s closer to $200,000.  A recent news story quotes a Florida businessperson buying TWO licenses for $460,000.    Wine and Spirits stores provided the state budget and taxpayers $513 million in profits and taxes last year.  How do we replace that?

Second, peer-reviewed studies show that states that control liquor sales have much less underage drinking than private store states.  Pennsylvania has the 7th lowest rate of underage drinking in the country.  Recent studies show 14.5 percent fewer high school students reported drinking and 16.7 percent fewer reported binge drinking in the past 30 days, and lower consumption rates are associated with a 9.3% lower alcohol-impaired driving death rate in states which keep control of alcohol sales.

A just completed study of the partial privatization of alcohol sales in British Columbia reveals a shocking 27.5 percent increase in alcohol-related deaths for every additional private liquor store per 1,000 residents, and a dramatic, 83 percent  increase in sales by private stores, despite only a 34 percent increase in the number of stores.  Virginia’s Republican governor recently dropped privatization efforts after research projected an additional 220 alcohol related traffic deaths annually if sales were privatized.

Promoting public safety is a core function of state government performed admirably by well trained employees in wine and spirits stores, where state police have documented only TWO instances of sales to minors over the past seven years.  That record is unmatched anywhere.

Which brings me to the editorial’s last point: that current workers should be given first crack at private liquor store jobs, with the current union contract kept in place.  I’ve found no such provision in Rep. Turzai’s legislation from last year. Wine and Spirits store workers aren’t getting rich, but these are family sustaining jobs with benefits.  Do you think Wal-Mart, CVS, or Uni-Mart would even bid on a license with that proviso? Consider also that a Pittsburgh newspaper survey comparing prices in Pennsylvania to prices in surrounding states found 26 instances of lower prices for the same product here, and 24 instances of higher prices in PA.   There’s no reason to think consumer would see lower prices across the board from privatization.

But, if you live in Snow Shoe, Milesburg, Howard, or Port Matilda, get ready to spend more on gas.  History shows when liquor sales go private, stores congregate in high population, high income areas, with small towns and rural areas left out.  When West Virginia controlled sales, every county had at least one outlet.  Now, five rural counties have no stores, and many others have a few shelves in the back of drug or convenience stores.

Pennsylvania’s wine and spirits stores offer a good selection at competitive prices, support 4,500 family sustaining jobs, provide the state’s taxpayers  a guaranteed more than half a billion dollars every year, and help keep minors away from alcohol.  Why change something that’s working so well?

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