Price hike ill-advised: The solution to a costlier LCB is private stores

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An internal Liquor Control Board proposal to jack up the state’s surcharge on wine and spirits provides one more strong argument for abolishing the state government monopoly.

The LCB’s finance director, in a July 30 memo, raised the idea of increasing the agency’s markup on all wine and liquor from the current 30 percent to 35 percent. August Hehemann made a bad idea worse by suggesting that the distilleries, vintners and distributors might eat the increase in order to keep shelf prices the same.

It’s preposterous to expect that, which means consumers — whether restaurants, bars or individual shoppers — would have to swallow higher prices.

It is equally inconceivable that a private industry would try to impose a significant increase on all of the products it sells in one fell swoop, as Mr. Hehemann proposed. That’s the kind of ham-handed move that can occur only when one entity controls the entire market.

Fortunately, Mr. Hehemann’s idea doesn’t seem to have much traction. LCB chairman Joseph E. “Skip” Brion said the proposed increase is not on the board’s agenda and he opposes it. He believes the agency can find other ways to absorb the rising cost of employee benefits including pensions and health care.

But that’s one of the roots of the problem. Because these retail store workers are government employees, the cost of personnel is much higher than it should be. Mere tweaks to the LCB’s cost structure would not fix the state’s problem with alcohol.

Pennsylvania needs a big solution, and it’s not a new idea. Gov. Tom Corbett and his Republican colleagues who control the Legislature need to get the state out of the liquor business and turn the sale of wine and spirits over to private enterprise.

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