Share This Page

The PLCB should not pass go

| Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2012, 8:57 p.m.

Growing up in Pennsylvania, my family enjoyed playing Monopoly over the holidays. The possibilities were endless, the rules clear and the objective simple — heck, it even had cool Keystone State references. But in the end, there could be only one winner with other players left bankrupt and broken.

Such are the ends of all monopolies — just ask Pennsylvania taxpayers and consumers of wine and spirits, who have played the game since 1933. The PLCB controls the dice, changes the rules as it goes and plays with your money while picking wine winners and liquor losers for a small crop of producers of its choosing. Customers may never pass go, shop elsewhere or even hang a shingle to compete lest they face the dreaded “Go Directly to Jail” card.

Sound like a fun game? Pennsylvanians don't think so, as credible polling has shown overwhelming majorities support privatization.

But in a desperate move to prove their value, PLCB officials have gone one step further to expand their monopoly. In a recent investigative report, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review uncorked a secretive plot by board officials that siphoned millions in taxpayer money to research, copyright, brand, advertise and market more than 30 “in-house” government wines and spirits to compete directly with private labels for shelf space and consumers.

Unfortunately, shoppers can't tell the difference, with exotic brand names like TableLeaf, LA MERIKA, Hayes Valley, Las Parcelas and Vinestone filling the shelves. Pennsylvanians are left only to guess “Government Wine” wouldn't yield much enthusiasm.

But forget for a moment the utterly unexplainable phenomenon of a government agency competing unfairly with private business while using millions of tax dollars to advertise and market these products in secrecy. Forget, too, the violation of public trust that has launched external and internal ethics investigations for numerous violations and disastrous decisions by executive staff that have cost taxpayers millions. In the end, it's about whether the government has any right being in the alcohol sales business when private industry can do it with more convenience, greater selection and better prices.

True, many argue Pennsylvania's public safety is at stake with the PLCB providing a service to protect citizens from the social ills surrounding alcohol abuse. It's a notion quickly dismissed by rigorous academic studies and empirical observation of privatized states with lower rates of alcohol-related fatalities and maladies.

Clearly, Pennsylvanians are crying sour grapes with this costly game and are responding by making up rules of their own — openly breaking the law. Even according to a taxpayer-funded study commissioned by the PLCB, bootlegging through neighboring states is prevalent. In Philadelphia and eight bordering counties, the study revealed nearly half surveyed broke the law. This border bleed cost Pennsylvania nearly $100 million in sales and $40 million in state taxes.

After nearly 80 years of control, the PLCB has produced a monopoly of manipulation, mediocrity, malfeasance and mismanagement. In its wake, we've been left with a small cadre of cronies counting their winnings, while the rest of Pennsylvanians, private businesses and consumers lie broken and bankrupted by bootlegging, border bleed and the loss of personal and economic freedoms.

They've had their turn, we've played their unfair game and now Pennsylvanians are demanding their legislators declare that this out-of-control agency never pass go or collect another $200 again.

Jay D. Ostrich is director of public affairs of the Commonwealth Foundation (CommonwealthFoundation.org).

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.