by State Rep. Joe Brennan
As a member of the state House Liquor Committee, I believe it is time to take a sober look at the issue of whether Pennsylvania should consider privatizing its Wine and Spirits stores.
I was pleased to see a recent two-part article in the Allentown Morning Call by reporter Scott Kraus that delved deeper into the complexities of this issue and pointed out some of the flaws in logic of the political rhetoric used by the proponents of privatization to make their case. These articles were a good start but there is much more to the issue.
The generally accepted public perception that prices will be lower and selection will be better if Pennsylvania privatizes its liquor stores are hardly absolute conclusions in the real world of retail liquor sales. This is not just an opinion but a statement of fact backed by reported perspectives of private wine specialty store owners in neighboring New Jersey.
The fact of the matter is that Pennsylvania consumers will not be better served on price and selection under a scheme that allows mega-retailers to limit selections and marginalize specialty wine and spirits retailers to areas of population density.
The purported windfall the state is supposed to get from selling private retail licenses is also a highly mobile and unreliable figure and one that many of the privatization proponents are now avoiding by changing the subject to a philosophical debate on the "proper role of government."
I welcome that debate because I believe the proper role of state government is to do what is best for all Pennsylvanians, not just those who would profit from privatization.
That is why I believe that we need to balance the advertised windfall of revenue said to come from privatization with the added costs to taxpayers in the case of delinquent tax collections from private retailers.
Most importantly, we also must quantify and include in any calculation of benefits the increased costs of law enforcement, the courts and the criminal justice system as well as the social impact of increased DUI and alcohol-related injuries and deaths that could arise from privatization and a leniency in liquor sales to minor and visibly intoxicated patrons.
As this issue becomes more focused and takes debate in the legislature, I plan to raise some of these substantive issues not from a partisan perspective but in the interests of what is best for all Pennsylvanians.
I would hope that my Republican counterparts in the General Assembly, as well as the media covering this issue, will not rush to report on this important social issue based on flawed or incomplete data and research that is used only to effect public opinion.
As elected officials we owe our constituents the respect they deserve by finding out and reporting all of the facts about this complex and important issue.