State sending mixed message on alcohol use
What other newspapers are saying
When money is tight, you do what you can to cut expenses. It only makes sense.
The exception, of course, would be if the cuts you make create another equally troublesome problem.
For instance, attempting to shrink one’s winter heating bill by turning down the thermostat and sealing cracks around windows and doors is smart. Terminating your gas service or getting rid of your furnace — not so much.
Among the steps Pennsylvania is considering in trying to close its $1.7 billion spending gap for the coming budget is privatizing its wholesale liquor business, now run by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board.
Some estimates have said that a leasing deal collecting 5 percent of revenue from the wholesale liquor business could generate at least $60 million a year.
Likely, the state isn’t anywhere near pulling the trigger on such a move just yet. Nonetheless, the run-up to what some believe is inevitable has begun to concern us.
First, liquor laws were changed to allow wine sales in grocery stores.
That knocked down the next domino, with state regulators increasingly granting convenience stores licenses to sell six-packs of beer.
And last week, Gov. Tom Wolf signed a bill that will allow the state’s more than 1,000 beer distributors to sell beer in any quantity, including individual 32-ounce bottles, four-packs, six-packs and growlers. Currently, distributors can sell only cases, 12-packs and kegs.
The new law, which takes effect in two months, also allows honey wine — sometimes known as mead — to be sold at farmer’s markets, permits sports stadiums that already sell beer to add hard liquor to their offerings and makes it legal for bars to sell alcohol starting at 9 a.m. on Sundays, without a requirement to serve food.
Consumers also will have the state’s blessing now to participate in beer-of-the-month clubs that ship beer directly to their homes.
No doubt, an extra $60 million sounds pretty good to lawmakers who support privatization, and easier access to beer and liquor has to put smiles on the faces of both those who sell it and those who imbibe.
We still think it falls short of a win-win scenario.
In Pennsylvania, between 2003 and 2012, there were 4,663 people killed in crashes involving a drunken driver, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The good news: Drunk-driving crashes in the commonwealth decreased 4.7 percent between 2013 and 2014, and deaths related to drunk driving dropped 14 percent over the same time.
Earlier this year, Wolf signed into law a bipartisan bill that will require some drivers to install in their vehicles a device that measures blood alcohol levels in order to start the engine.
That law takes effect in August 2017.
Obviously, the state is taking aggressive steps to curb drunk driving — except for making alcohol progressively easier to get.
Moreover, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence reports that “Alcohol and drugs are implicated in an estimated 80 percent of offenses leading to incarceration in the United States such as domestic violence, driving while intoxicated, property offenses, drug offenses and public-order offenses.”
It adds that “Alcohol is often a factor in violence where the attacker and the victim know each other. Two-thirds of victims who were attacked by an intimate (including a current or former spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend) reported that alcohol had been involved.”
We understand the critical nature of the state’s budget crisis, and encourage any and all ideas that may alleviate it to be considered.
However, we also encourage legislators to consider the broader consequences of their actions, to ensure that the cure for one ailment doesn’t exacerbate another.