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A shortage of liquor facts

March 10, 1997

Republicans in the Pennsylvania Senate plan to meet privately with Gov. Tom Ridge's this week to discuss the best way to privatize the state's liquor stores. We say the best way to do this is to expose any wheeling and dealing to the full light of day.

The Harrisburg bureau of The Associated Press this week reported that GOP senators aren't sure how to get the measure through a legislature that is deeply divided on the issue. According to their counsel, Stephen MacNett, the only thing anyone can agree on is that nobody wants to boost alcohol consumption or reduce the state's take of alcohol revenues. The governor's office said last week that neither would happen, but provided no details. A little factual input might be the best medicine to energize the lethargic legislature into doing some hard thinking on this issue.

Factual input? Let us explain. Pennsylvania is only one of two states still in the liquor business, right? At one time there were other states involved, other states which have made the transition from public to private ownership of liquor stores.

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By looking at the experience of those states, particularly those most similar to Pennsylvania, lawmakers will be able to answer these questions:

-Did drinking increase, and if so, was it because competition drove prices down, or because low-paid sales clerks (as opposed to state employees) were doing the selling?

- Did revenues fall, and were there additional expenses due to an increased need for law enforcement and/or state-sponsored alcohol counseling?

As readers may be aware, we believe any sale of state stores should be approached with extreme caution. There'll be a one-time influx of revenue that will be gone all too soon unless lawmakers put it in trust, and use only the interest. We also believe consumption will increase, due to the private sector's natural desire to increase sales.

Prudent lawmakers should first demand to know how other states handled this, then reject any plan that depends on blind faith that bad things won't happen.

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