Corbett Alcohol Reform Plan Barely Lays a Hand on the Cartels

I’m working on a Patriot News op-ed on alcohol reform for this weekend that will feature some of these same points, but I can’t resist quickly commenting on the Corbett alcohol reform plan.

The Good Stuff:

Grocery stores, gas stations, and convenience stores will be able to get licenses to sell beer and wine. No more competition between supermarkets and bars/restaurants for tavern licenses, as has been the case since the Wegmans court decision

You’ll be able to buy beer, wine and liquor all in one place at (some) beer distributors, and beer distributors will be able to sell six-packs. No more having to buy a whole case of just one brand for a party.

ID scans for all alcohol purchases. A no-brainer. I haven’t seen anyone else mention this, but Corbett said this was happening during the press conference.

Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement gets a 22% funding increase. PLCB would no longer be in the corrupting business of both selling and regulating alcohol

$1 billion for education over four years. The people complaining that this is a gimmick are really just grumpy about selling the state stores. Obviously an extra billion dollars would be great for school districts and they know that.

The Bad Stuff

It doesn’t really bust up any of the licensing cartels. The problem is not just the state monopoly, it’s the cartels too. Giving certain kinds of businesses monopoly control over certain products is just as objectionable. We get a little more managed competition, but it’s hardly the free market that pro-consumer liberals and libertarians were hoping for.

-No gallonage tax. For all the noise the pro-monopoly side makes about public health there are only a few proven ways to reduce problem drinking. This is one of them (the other is advertising bans). A revenue-neutral gallonage tax would’ve raised the cost of the cheap swill that alcoholics buy. A tax on value sounds progressive to Democrats, and it is, but I think we really ought to care more about reducing the public harms of drinking than sticking it to rich guys. You could do both though, and slap a high luxury tax on alcohol purchases over $100 or so.

It still caps tavern liquor licenses. This is the biggest problem with the bill in my view. It doesn’t touch the County Quota system, where each County gets 1 tavern license per 3000 people. This is a disaster for older core downtowns that ”want” to be nightlife clusters, but can’t because there aren’t enough liquor licenses. I am convinced that uncapping tavern licenses is the single most effective thing the state could do for distressed older cities.

- It caps liquor store licenses.  I don’t care as much about the cap on liquor store licenses, which this bill doubles from 620 to 1200, but this is still a kludgey way to go about preventing oversaturation, if that is the goal. My preference would be to not cap the number of stores, and fight oversaturation of liquor stores in poor neighborhoods through local zoning laws. It’s a local issue, not a state issue.

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