Last week, the excellent (and hilarious) Tom Johnson published an article titled “Pennsylvania, Cradle of Liberty” in which he highlighted a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article about the expansion of PA’s wine kiosk device.
Besides Tom’s normally laugh-out-loud funny and on-point commentary, the post is worth a read (and a click-through to the article) if only for this well-meaning but (in my view) misguided quote in the P-G piece, regarding the expansion of the “automated” wine kiosks to more grocery stores throughout the state (emphasis is mine):
“I’m all for it,” said Marsha Cuffia, a member of American Wine Society of East Pittsburgh. “We should be up with the modern world.”
Call me crazy, but I don’t see how the use of technology equates to being modern, especially when it doesn’t go hand-in-hand with modern common sense.
For example, wouldn’t it make more sense to get “modern” by catching up with some more basic items than the technological marvel of the wine kiosk? You know, lower-tech things like the free market system, and increasing profits across the state. Before dumping money into a technology that requires over ten steps, a breathalyzer test, and takes two-and-half minutes to make a single purchase, I mean.
I know, I know… I’m a real pimple on the ass of progress, right?
I’m just not a fan of throwing tech (or money) at a problem when there’s potentially lower-hanging fruit. Like being more profitable, offering more consumer choice, improving customer service, and (last but not least) getting a bit more in-line with the U.S. Constitution…
The facts, such as the are, support the view that the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board have largely failed in what they purport to be the primary reasons for their existence. During a fairly recent post on the PLCB subject, I had the following exchange in the Comments section, which I thought was worth highlighting in light of the kiosk-expansion news.
First, the commenter’s view:
“…for all of you who wish to abolish the PLCB, just remember this … 2008-09 fiscal year:
TRANSFERRED TO THE STATE TREASURY
6% State and Local Sales Taxes=$109,490,825
18% State Liquor Tax=$266,332,120
Now assuming that all of these private companies pay their taxes, the first two line items can still be recouped. However, losing a quarter of a billion dollars every two years in revenue can never be recovered… unless …you raise taxes, and I’m sure you are all in favor of that as well!(sarcasm for those who don’t recognize) The PLCB store that I am manager at currently has approximately 5000 wines alone! Not to mention the 10 of thousands of wines that are also available via Special Liquor Order. Would really love to know the store in which Cab Franc does not exist. I’m guessing it was a small store somewhere. Sadly, currently there are no listed codes for Cab Franc which simply means you must go to a premium Collection store of which there are 67 (I believe). Currently, there are 26 Luxury Items that are designated Cab Franc, and are available in select store, as well as another 38 available SLO. This does not include Chinon’s 9 luxury items, 19 SLO Items, Saumer’s- 6 luxury items, 8 SLO items.”
And my response:
With reference to the $500m, to get a complete picture the operating expenses of the PLCB (quoted by Lew at http://noplcb.blogspot.com/2009/01/reason-13-their-hand-is-in-your-pocket.html ) need to be included, which in the fiscal year ending in `07 was over $335m.
So in a way we’re really talking about **$165m**, or thereabouts, not $500m (depending of course on the OE for for the `08-`09 fiscal year). Part of this expense seems to be in keeping under-performing stores open ( http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/08028/852743-85.stm ) which I’d offer isn’t a sound business model.
Not exactly chump-change, but couple it with the facts that Pennsylvania’s underage drinking rate remains above average for the 50 states ( http://www.oas.samhsa.gov/2k6/stateUnderageDrinking/underageDrinking.htm ) and the fact that the Commonwealth remains above average in DUI fatalities per mile driven ( http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2009-12-07-drunk-driving_N.htm#table ) and it’s tough to blame PA residents I think, if they conclude that the PLCB isn’t delivering on all of its promises or potential value for money.
No doubt the buying power of the PLCB allows some discounts to the consumer, but I’d be willing to pay a bit more for unrestricted choice and competition.
As for the potential drop in revenue if the PLCB is privatized, PA House Republican Whip Mike Turzai has already offered legislation this year ( http://www.pahousegop.com/NewsItem.aspx?NewsID=8783 ) that predicts that PA would see more revenue, not less (“new revenues from taxes that new businesses would be required to pay and will recoup revenues that are currently being lost due to Pennsylvania consumers leaving the state to purchase their wine and spirits”).
So… while it could certainly be argued that my personal view on the kiosk concept is far too subjective, given my love/hate-but-mostly-hate views on the PLCB, it’s worth noting that I’m also a tax-paying PA resident and therefore there’s a high probability of me running into one of those wine kiosks in the future. And maybe even trying to make a wine purchase (fancy that).
Hey, PA – want to really get modern? How about getting wine lovers out of the stone age when it comes to choice, customer service and direct shipping before making us breathe into the wine store equivalent of the HAL 9000.