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EDITORIAL: Pennsylvania’s booze monopoly

The state can’t give up its addiction to strong drink

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Healthy libations are a traditional part of many Independence Day celebrations. A cold beer goes well with a barbecue, but Pennsylvanians can't head to their local convenience store or gas station to pick up a six-pack. The state has a bizarre set of regulations limiting such sales to restaurants, and those who want to toast liberty with wine or liquor must pay a visit to a state liquor store.

It has been this way since the 1930s. Along with Utah, Pennsylvania remains the only other state with a monopoly on wholesale and retail sales of wine and liquor. Beer distributors have a little more leeway, but they operate in territories that are protected from competition.

Tom Corbett, Pennsylvania's Republican governor, wants to sell the state's liquor stores. Privatized sales would likely mean more outlets, more overall sales and more tax revenue for the state. Consumers would see lower prices, better service and more variety. The state of Washington discovered these benefits last year when it jettisoned its state liquor monopoly. Anything the government can do, private enterprise can do better.

Pennsylvania's Republican-controlled legislature should be expected to leap to the embrace of free enterprise, competition and consumer choice. Sadly, it is headed in the opposite direction. Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which represents the 3,000 state liquor store employees (don't ask us why), is pressuring the politicians to keep these employees on the public payroll, and hence union membership.

According to the Pennsylvania Independent, an investigative news website, state Sen. Charles McIlhinney, the Republican chairman of the Senate Law and Justice Committee, received $25,000 in 2010 from the Lower Bucks Leadership Fund, a political action committee funded by the union.

Mr. McIlhinney managed the privatization bill in the legislature, derailing passage in the legislative session, which just ended. He calls a connection of cause and effect "ridiculous." He told Eric Boehm of the Independent, "I didn't ask the [International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers] to give me that money." The check probably flew in over the transom.

Entrenched interests always squawk when someone proposes the government do less. Virginia's Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican, learned this when he tried to persuade the Republican-controlled General Assembly to relinquish the state franchise on demon rum.

While there may (or may not) have been reasons to regulate the sale of alcohol in the aftermath of Prohibition, those days vanished long ago. Mississippi was the last state to formally repeal the 19th Amendment in 1966, depriving bootleggers with a federal stamp of their jobs. Forty-seven years later, Pennsylvania, Utah and Virginia should take a step into the 21st century.

The Washington Times

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