New Year's Eve festivities are known to cause some hangovers, but consumers of wine and spirits in Pennsylvania woke up Jan. 1 with two that did not come out of a bottle.
The first is the continued existence of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, one of the last and certainly biggest such monopolies in the country. The agency was formed in the dying days of Prohibition in 1933, with Gov. Gifford Pinchot stating that its purpose was to "discourage the purchase of alcoholic beverages by making it as inconvenient and expensive as possible."
Even in the days of a supposedly consumer-friendly LCB, it's easy to see the spirit of that mission is still being served. There's nothing like a 78-year-old hangover to keep on hurting.
The latest hangover comes discourtesy of the House Liquor Control Committee, which a couple weeks ago considered a legislative aspirin to take for the monopoly hangover - a bill pushed by House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods, to privatize the system.
But the committee chairman, Rep. John Taylor, a Republican from Philadelphia, had his own old-fashioned remedy, the tried and true do-nothing-about-privatization pill. He did come up with one creative twist in gutting the privatization plan and replacing it with his own. Among other things, his bill would allow beer distributors to sell wine. Mr. Turzai meekly greeted the news that the absurdity of the state being in the liquor business would likely continue.
So it's a happy new year for the entrenched defenders of the status quo. Whether it's a happy new year for those who want to see Pennsylvania join the 21st century at last will depend in the coming months on the guts and political leadership that Gov. Tom Corbett and Mr. Turzai can muster on this issue.
Certainly, Pennsylvania has many important priorities - and in this space we editorialize on them all the time. But by sheer dint of its archaic resilience, the state liquor monopoly is the defining symbol of Pennsylvania's backwardness. If we can't change that, maybe nothing can be changed.
Already the opponents of reform think that because 2012 is an election year nothing can happen. Not so. In late September, a Quinnipiac University poll found that 62 percent of Pennsylvania voters supported privatization of liquor sales - with just 31 percent opposed. It's time that opponents of selling the state stores developed the headaches.
- Pittsburgh Post-Gazette