In a recent debate, Republican gubernatorial candidate Mike Fisher announced that he wants to privatize Pennsylvania liquor stores.
It’s an obvious idea, but one that hasn’t been able to make it through the state house for a long time.
The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board was created in 1933, after the end of Prohibition.
It was created by the state Legislature to protect the “peace, health and morals” of Pennsylvania residents and give the state government exclusive ownership of liquor stores and liquor distributors.
The Legislature thus created a state-owned monopoly that became the nation’s biggest purchaser of wine and spirits – with no benefit to Pennsylvania residents.
While every state regulates liquor, most laws are saner and less heavy-handed than Pennsylvania’s.
In California you can purchase hard liquor at convenience stores.
In Massachusetts, liquor stores are open until midnight on weekends.
Even Mormon-saturated Utah allows privately operated liquor stores.
But in Pennsylvania, state-owned liquor stores have a limited selection, inflated prices, weird hours, and are ultimately relics of a puritan past we’ve left behind.
Matter of fact, we have the only state-owned liquor stores in the country.
To find the cost of our state-owned stores, just take a drive across the Ben Franklin Bridge.
As soon as the New Jersey state line is crossed, the highway becomes nothing more than a continuous stream of liquor stores until you hit Cherry Hill.
Who’s shopping at these stores?
Philadelphians, to avoid paying $1.50 more for a bottle of vodka at a store that closes at eight on a Saturday night.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
While liquor stores are an important stream of revenue to the state (to the tune of $35 million a year), that money can be easily recouped.
In a 1999 speech, then-governor Tom Ridge said that selling and privatizing state-owned stores would mean nearly $1 billion in state coffers overnight.
One billion dollars is a lot of money and could do this state a lot of good.
The last time I checked, there was a struggling public school system and some under-funded state universities that could use that extra cash.
Not privatizing liquor stores makes no sense at all.
There have been attempts to get rid of state-owned stores, but to no avail.
Privatization has been a pet project of nearly every governor for the last 30 years, with the support of both Republican and Democratic politicians.
Unfortunately, their efforts were constantly stopped by the religious right and anti-drunk driving activists, who presumably would rather have drunk drivers careening over the Tacony Bridge to get cheap liquor out of state.
Privatizing liquor stores would bring Pennsylvania into the 21st century, give customers a wider selection and stop us from being the target of Californians’ jokes.
There’s no reason not to do it.
Neal Ungerleider can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org