The Morning File / Let's drink to fact that alcohol revenue is going up, up, up


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The news has arrived that Allegheny County residents are drinking a lot -- more than anyone anticipated a few years ago -- and this is great!

It means money is running like a river of wine (and beer and harder stuff such as ouzo, though the latter is a drink one should be very cautious with, based on personal experience) through the county's coffers.

The information on how much we enjoy our alcohol these days isn't based on some random observation of the mayhem on Carson Street on a Saturday night, though that would seem plenty good enough evidence. No, it's right there in the dry, sobering facts associated with the county's 2014 budget plan.

The 7 percent tax on alcoholic drinks consumed in bars and restaurants is projected to bring in $34.7 million in 2014, compared to $32.8 million this year and a mere $27.3 million as recently as 2010.

Clearly, we like our booze a lot more than we did just three years ago. This is just a rough, unscientific guess, but based on the figures, it sounds like maybe we may already be consuming about 100 million glasses of beer, wine and spirits in public in a year in Allegheny County. It seems somebody in Executive Rich Fitzgerald's office is now saying: "Whoa, there's no way that's enough to satisfy people. Surely, we're good for a few million more glasses of alcohol next year."

The Morning File sometimes gets confused about why people drink alcohol, other than for the fact that it makes for much better conversations -- usually.

But does a rise in alcohol consumption mean we're feeling good, or that we're feeling dispirited? Are we drinking in celebration or trying to drown our sorrows? Are we imbibing for a great social high among friends or doing it because we're depressed, embittered escapists who have no more constructive way to spend our time?

A good case could be made locally for either explanation. To wit (not to be confused with being too witty) ...

• Are we drinking more now because the Pirates have given us more joy than at any time in decades, leading to all kinds of bar viewings and beer consumption by large stadium crowds, or ... are we drinking because the Steelers seem headed to their worst season in decades after a mediocre 2012, and their future seems bleaker than at any time in the proud franchise's recent history?

•  Are we becoming bigger boozehounds because we're excited about the prospect of a new Pittsburgh mayor enthusiastically and visibly embracing the position and carrying a sense of vision for government's role in guiding this great city's future, or ... are we reacting to corruption probes of the Ravenstahl administration and the potential shame we will feel if any additional criminal charges are brought against those with whom we trusted the keys to the city?

•  Are we simply raising an extra toast to the fact that summer seems to last longer now and provides so many more warm days outdoors to jog, garden, golf and even just sit out on the patio to share a nice bottle of Chardonnay, or ... are we trying to drink so much to forget the warnings that the extended summers are a sign of some climatalogical armageddon drawing nigh that will destroy the world as we know it?

•  Are we consuming more than ever because the county's longtime population decline has finally ended and we're so delighted to be able to share such a wonderful place with more and more neighbors, or ... are we so angry that we need an extra beer at the end of the day because these stupid newcomers who don't know their way around are clogging the highways and slowing us down?

•  Are we imbibing because it's the start of another great fall and winter of Penguins hockey and Pitt basketball where we bask in all of their success throughout their long regular seasons, or ... are we drinking ourselves into oblivion every post-season when they are perennial favorites because of superior talent but end up as disappointments?

• Are we drinking in happiness that America has a health care system that will come closer than anything previous to giving everyone a shot at affordable, quality medical services, or ... are we drinking in despair that the government is interfering in ways it doesn't need to with our lives and botching everything up when it tries?

The answers to all the above depend on whether you're one of those half-empty or half-full people with the glass of alcohol in your hand. One suggestion, however: If your glass contains ouzo, just leave the other half behind, either way.

Gary Rotstein: grotstein@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1255.


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