Back in 1933, in the waning days of Prohibition, Pennsylvania Gov. Gifford Pinchot called a special assembly of the state legislature and in just 23 days pushed through legislation designed to restrain liquor sales in the state.
Pinchot, who didn’t drink, outlined the reasoning behind his state store plan in a January 1934 article for The Rotarian magazine. He said the new legislation was “an honest effort of sincere drys and sincere wets working together to prevent every preventable evil of the liquor traffic.”
The words – sincere drys and sincere wets – seem like something from the sepia-tinted past and out of step with modern times.
Gov. Tom Corbett last month became yet the latest Republican governor to try to undo the state’s monopoly on liquor sales. His privatization plan carries a one-time bonus for public education. Some $1 billion gained over four years from the sale of the state’s liquor assets would be directed into public education block grants. Though we opposed his previous campaign to privatize the state lottery, we think he’s on the right track to try to turn the state liquor system over to private hands.
We agree with him when he said, “Selling liquor … is not a core function of government. Education is.”
And we applaud every effort to give tax credits to businesses that employ those state workers who would lose their jobs, and we agree with state Rep. John Taylor that the family operated beer distributors deserve special consideration.
But it’s long past the time for Pennsylvania to join 48 other states in accepting the convenience, lower prices and better selection that private businesses operating in a competitive environment can offer.
Anyone who has lived elsewhere can tell you of the convenience of buying wine along with your groceries, or stopping at a convenience store for a six pack of beer. In this day and age, we don’t need or want a state store system that is designed to make it as inconvenient as possible to host a party or a holiday dinner.
Both a Franklin & Marshall College poll and one commissioned by the Commonwealth Foundation tell us that a majority of our fellow citizens support getting rid of the state store system.
That’s not to say the state Liquor Control Board has done a bad job. Over the last four years, public perceptions of the stores’ selections, customer service, knowledge of its staffers and more affordable prices have all gotten better. But these are just like putting new tires on an old jalopy.
The bottom line is that the experiment called Prohibition is done and the “sincere wets” should have the freedom of choice that privatization would bring. ••