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Not only should monopoly end, but state should get out of liquor business entirely

Republican state Rep. Natalie Mihalek’s proposed constitutional amendment to get Pennsylvania out of the booze business is simplicity itself: “The Commonwealth shall not manufacture or sell, at wholesale or retail, liquor.”

The state government’s only legitimate roles regarding alcoholic beverages should be regulation and enforcement — licensing wholesalers and retailers, establishing laws and regulations and enforcing them, setting taxation rates, and so on.

Yet the state government has a comprehensive monopoly over wholesale and retail sales of liquor, wholesale control and near total retail control of wine, and regulatory control of beer sales.

The system is a convoluted, anti-consumer mess. It features absurdities like requiring a separate checkout for beer and wine sales in supermarkets, which are allowed to sell wine and beer for takeout only if they establish an area to dine in.

Alcoholic beverages are consumer products that should be sold through the private sector. System defenders insist that the state must retain its monopoly for the sake of public safety, in that state employees won’t risk their jobs by selling to underaged people — a position that assumes a private-sector retailer would risk a multimillion-dollar license by doing so. And if safety is the issue, why doesn’t the state sell guns?

The other argument is the potential loss of state revenue from private-sector conversion. But the state still would continue to collect taxes on alcoholic beverage sales, and it would lose associated costs.

Statewide, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board has more than 600 retail stores and about 2,500 full-time employees. The size of the state market would ensure a robust private-sector industry and numerous job opportunities.

Due to their vast experience with the PLCB, a majority of state voters likely would vote against the monopoly. But they also should know what they would be voting for.

As a constitutional amendment, the proposal would have to pass two consecutive sessions of the Legislature before being sent to the voters. It passed the House Liquor Control Committee on Thursday, by a 14-10 party-line vote. That gives proponents plenty of time to provide a comprehensive picture of private-sector wholesale and retail operations.

–Scranton Times-Tribune

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