Posted on | April 20, 2012
Written by | BevNetwork
Industry executives wouldn’t take a position on whether states should privatize alcohol sales but warned that lawmakers shouldn’t be naive about the implications of insufficient regulation.
They spoke Thursday at what they called the first ever industry-wide discussion of issues surrounding privatization. Their emphasis was on regulation.
“Getting government out of the alcohol business shouldn’t mean leaving the businesses that engage in the trade ungoverned,” said Craig Wolf, president of the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America, which sponsored the event at the National Press Club.
Joe Conti, chief executive officer of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, was among the panelists.
Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods, wants to auction off the 608 state-owned wine and spirit shops. Gov. Tom Corbett is also pro-privatization. Three of his gubernatorial predecessors also fought for privatization but failed.
Republicans say there’s more momentum now, but Mr. Conti said Thursday that the momentum is coming from policy makers, not consumers, who, he said, stopped grousing about the state stores years ago when prices, selection and service improved.
Distributor Charlie Merinoff said that satisfaction — whether with a public or private system — shouldn’t make lawmakers so comfortable that they become complacent about regulation.
“I happen to like regulation because I play by the rules and I need clear rules for our product, and I see what people can do with our products when there aren’t rules,” said Mr. Merinoff, CEO of the Charmer Sunbelt Group and chairman of the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America. “I don’t mind having some rules and regulations about how to conduct ourselves in handling this product.”
Still, neither he nor the other panelists — including Peter Cressy, president and CEO of the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, and John Bodnovich, executive director of American Beverage Licensees — could specify exactly what additional regulations are necessary in a privatized system.
“These aren’t easy decisions. There’s no right answer,” Mr. Bodnovich said.
The important thing, Mr. Merinoff said, is to involve all stakeholders in regulatory decisions.
“We all get provincial. That’s why you need all the parties to participate because everyone sees the world through their lens,” he said.
Mr. Wolf said Thursday’s event was prompted by privatization debates across the country. His trade organization represents 340 wholesale distributors and brokers of wine and spirits.
By Tracie Mauriello
April 20, 2012