Public Support Declines For Liquor Privatization

Feb 11, 2013, 16:37 ET from Independent State Store Union

State stores enjoy more support than Governor Corbett in latest poll

HARRISBURG, Pa., Feb. 11, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- After two years of public debate in Pennsylvania over liquor privatization, public opinion is shifting in favor of the current state store system said the Independent State Store Union (ISSU), the union that represents 720 state store managers.

ISSU cited polling numbers from the latest Keystone Poll, conducted by Franklin and Marshall College, as proof that the public is paying attention to this very important public policy debate and they are not buying the empty promises of privatization profiteers. 

"Privatization is a 'sound bite' that usually polls well but as voters learn the specific details and impacts of such plans, privatization loses its luster with the public," said David Wanamaker, spokesperson for ISSU.

The latest polling reveals an overall decline of 16% in public support for privatization.  A June, 2011 poll by Quinnipiac University indicated that 69% of respondents supported privatization; the current Keystone Poll showed only 53% of those surveyed supporting privatization.

Additionally, while the latest Keystone Poll indicates moderate support for privatization, that support is "soft" at best.  The poll reported that only 34% "strongly support" privatization while another 19% "somewhat support" the concept.  

ISSU contends that as the privatization debate continues, facts will replace empty promises and public support will continue to diminish.

"When Rep. Turzai rolled out his privatization plan, he did so with the promise of generating $2 billion in new revenue for the Commonwealth.  This grossly inflated revenue projection helped to artificially inflate public support for privatization.  The promise of significant revenue -- without a tax increase -- made it easier for normally conservative Pennsylvanians to accept a bad idea.  When the revenue projection was proven to be significantly exaggerated and unrealistic, public support started to wane," Wanamaker said.

Wanamaker also attributes the decline in support to the realization that increased convenience, better selection and lower prices would not materialize under privatization as promised.

"The liquor and wine privatization experiment playing out in the state of Washington is just the most recent example that privatization has been a failure in other states.  Despite the lofty promises of cheaper prices, increased selection and improved convenience, the opposite have occurred," he said.

Reports on the Washington experiment show that consumers are paying much more at private retailers for many types of wine and liquor.  In fact, according to media reports, residents are crossing the borders to Idaho and Oregon -- jurisdictions with state-run liquor stores -- for cheaper prices.

Additionally, in Washington, selection has diminished greatly.  It has been reported that Costco, the largest private retailer in the state, stocks only 70 products – the average Pennsylvania state store stocks over 2500 items.

More recently, small, independently owned liquor stores in Washington have been forced to shut their doors because they cannot compete in a market dominated by large, corporate owned box stores and retailers such as Costco, Walmart and Walgreens.  The loss of independently owned liquor outlets has negatively impacted convenience.  It is expected that the same corporations will dominate the market in Pennsylvania under the proposed privatized system with similar results.

"Understandably, increased prices, decreased selection and less convenience have resulted in a severe case of 'buyer's remorse' from Washington consumers who were promised more and expected better under a privatized liquor system.  Pennsylvanians are not willing to accept the same empty promises and similar results," Wanamaker said.

"Just like the privatization of the Pennsylvania Lottery, which was opposed by a margin of 64% to 18% in the F&M poll, we do not believe our taxpayers are willing to turn over our state stores -- a valuable state-owned asset which produces much needed revenue for vital state programs -- to faceless corporations at the expense of Commonwealth employees, existing small business owners and our residents who have a integral stake in the current system," Wanamaker said.

"State store privatization is simply not a priority issue to any great number of residents.  A November 2011 Keystone Poll ranked the voters priorities of issues being considered by the Governor and Legislature -- state store privatization ranked dead last in that poll.  There are a significant number of parents who don't want Captain Morgan in the same grocery aisle as Captain Crunch," he said.

Wanamaker noted a bit of irony in the fact that while the state stores are being targeted for elimination by the Governor, the state stores polled better "support" numbers than the Governor in the latest Keystone survey. 

The latest poll shows that only 7% of the public had a "strong favorable" opinion of the Governor.  In comparison, 24% of the public voiced a "strong favorable" opinion for the state store system.  The Governor's overall "favorable" rating was 25%; the state stores received an overall "favorable" rating of 34%.  

"Unfortunately, to the detriment of all Pennsylvanians -- and his own administration -- Governor Corbett continues to expend an inordinate amount of political capital in his efforts to assist his corporate friends to appropriate revenue producing assets from the citizens of the Commonwealth and put the profits in their own pockets instead of the state treasury," said Wanamaker.

"We believe the Governor is ill-advised to place the insatiable corporate thirst for profits from the sale of liquor over the true needs of our residents.  There are a host of issues that are more deserving of the Governor's time and focus.  It is time that the Governor and the Legislature address issues of real importance to their constituents.  It is time we stop worrying about Pennsylvanians' liquor cabinets and concentrate on issues that have a real and meaningful impact on their lives -- being able to grab Canadian bacon and Canadian Club at the same time is not one of them," Wanamaker concluded.

SOURCE Independent State Store Union