The latest plan coming out of Harrisburg for how to best bring an end to the commonwealth's century-old stranglehold on liquor is an interesting proposal and one that could be a viable option.
Sen. Chuck McIlhinney's latest plan would keep the state in control of wholesale liquor, while expanding where booze will be sold. Simply put the state would still buy liquor, as it does now, but rather than oversee thousands of state-run stories, it would supply privately-owned businesses, from restaurants to bars to distributors. McIlhinney's proposal would also set a two-year window for the state to examine the program's success to see if it wants to stay in the wholesale business or privatize completely.
Some have called the latest plan "modernizing" the state's booze business. How much it would do that, remains to be seen.
Reform Sen. Rob Teplitz argues this is much ado about nothing: "This bill … would be a victory for those who prefer a slow, confusing and expensive death to the current system as opposed to a quick, stupid and expensive death. So I'm not sure much progress has really been made," he said.
What this bill does is create a middle ground that has not been there before. Most of the other options for liquor privatization have involved completely dismantling the monopoly, removing the state from the equation immediately. The sale of liquor licenses would create a brief boon of capital to a Capital that needs it. But the money would quickly run out and the profits the state received annually from liquor sales would be gone as well.
This plan logically keeps the state in the business. The state can purchase from wholesalers at what should be a reduced rate considering the volume. The state then turns and sells booze to private businesses, including those that formerly would not have the option.
But … after two years if the flow of liquor is not working, there is an out. If things are not working and customers still can't get their spirits when and where they want, the next step can be taken — to go completely private.
If it does work, however, the state would retain annual profits from the state of liquor, not just a quick windfall to fill the coffers in time for an election.
Is this proposal the best one out there? Maybe, maybe not. At least is seems to be a step in the right direction.