The LCB: Then

Pennsylvania established the LCB (Liquor Control Board) in 1933 during a Special Session of the legislature called by Gifford Pinchot. Mr. Pinchot, a prohibitionist, did not view the state as a vehicle to grow the liquor industry. His mission was to “discourage the purchase of alcoholic beverages by making it as inconvenient and expensive as possible.”

The LCB: Now

Times have changed.

The moral mission of the LCB was amended in 1987 under Act 14. Liquor law enforcement was transferred from the State Police to the LCB’s Office of Administrative Law Judge.

A three-member board,  with members appointed by the Governor and confirmed by two-thirds of the state Senate, governs the agency.

The PLCB operates 904,000 square feet of warehouse space, the equivalent of 19 football fields, contracted with three privately held Pennsylvania distribution center companies. In fiscal year
2018-19, more than 17.5 million cases were shipped from these distribution centers.

More than six hundred (600) Fine Wine & Good Spirits stores operate under leases from private landlords. This includes more than one hundred (100) Premium Collection stores and thirteen (13) licensee service centers.

An Alcohol Monopoly: Reform Needed

It’s never a good idea for a government agency to simultaneously promote and regulate a consumer product.

It’s hard to imagine better advertisements for relinquishing Prohibition-era control over liquor sales than the LCB follies during the Rendell Administration.

In 2007 Gov. Rendell appointed former state senator and pay-jacker Joe Conti to a new $150,000 position as CEO of the Liquor Control Board. Conti’s anointment came without a nationwide search, and his salary more than doubled the $65,572 paid to the Chairman of the LCB, Jonathan Newman.

Newman, the son of former-Supreme Court Justice Sandra Newman, resigned on January 3, 2007 saying his authority had been undermined by the hiring of Conti. Newman, in turn, was blasted for indulging in $47,188 in travel expense between 2004-2006. Expenses for the other board members who are still serving – Thomas Goldsmith and P.J. Stapleton – totaled $35,887 and $20,048 during the same period.

Battered by PR missteps, in March, 2009 the LCB announced it would spend $170,000 on charm school for its employees. Mr. Conti said, “This is part of the renaissance of the Liquor Control Board. The point is to become a specialty retailer and not be known as a government monopoly.” The merits of this point cannot be denied: but rebranding a monopoly doesn’t dissolve it. A true solution, selling the government monopoly on liquor, has yet to be explored.

Not content to embarrass itself with a charm offense, last May the LCB decided to roll out a $142,000 ad inviting family members to get Mom drunk on Mother’s Day. “Treat her to the perfect Mother’s Day cocktail this year. Try a Mother’s Kiss mixed drink, made with equal parts strawberry kiwi vodka and lemonade.”

The LCB: The Future

It’s past time to move the state into the modern era. Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson County, believes the state should consider lifting certain restraints placed on the PLCB. Those for review include expanded store hours and pricing differentiated by geographic regions. Lifting these would permit the PLCB to operate more like a traditional business: a good thing for consumers.