Sunday, August 30, 2015

LCB again proving it has outlived its usefulness

You might expect an agency supposedly on the brink of elimination to tread quietly for a while. But even amid the legislature’s latest failed attempt to make them part of the history from whence they came, Pennsylvania’s favorite Prohibition reenactors were still rampaging across the commonwealth, doing their best to keep a lid on the 21st Amendment.

LCB again proving it has outlived its usefulness

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                                                                                                                     MICHAEL KLEIN / Philly.com
MICHAEL KLEIN / Philly.com

You might expect an agency supposedly on the brink of elimination to tread quietly for a while. But even amid the legislature’s latest failed attempt to make them part of the history from whence they came, Pennsylvania’s favorite Prohibition reenactors were still rampaging across the commonwealth, doing their best to keep a lid on the 21st Amendment.

The Carrie Nation appreciation society that is the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board has trained its ax on the region’s eminently likable Iron Hill chain of brew pubs. Their offense? Handmade mugs. Specifically, Iron Hill allows customers to join a Mug Club offering redeemable points based on their purchases of beer and food, as well as, in said mugs, an extra eight ounces of beer at the regular pint price.

Last month, some 10 unmolested years into the Mug Club’s existence, the LCB informed Iron Hill that under the state’s extensive, inscrutable liquor codes, “the offering of points for purchases is problematic when points are accumulated based on the purchase of beer/alcohol.” The same arcane body of law apparently “prohibits the sale and/or serving of an increased volume of one (1) drink of liquor, wine or malt or brewed beverages without a corresponding and proportionate increase in the price for the drink.”

Iron Hill’s proposed fix is almost as sadly comic as this stern notice of violation, especially when one considers the public money being spent on this so-called law enforcement effort. Besides forgoing points for alcohol purchases, the chain says members “can continue to drink from the Mug Club mug, but must pay the same price as non-club members, an additional 50 cents over the current price of a pint. The free eight ounces of beer that Mug Club members received was another major issue for the state.” And now we can rest easy, secure in the knowledge that the state has averted the threat of free beer.

Is the way the LCB applies arcane rules more evidence that it isn’t needed?
Yes, faulted a local brew pub over its ‘Mug Club’ freebees
No, LCB has no choice but to enforce rules
Yes, whole agency is an anachronism
No, LCB is right that liquor discounts encourage excess

Given the relative popularity of discounted food and beer, it seems likely that the complaint behind this sanction was lodged by a competitor or someone else with a grudge against Iron Hill. And given that the state’s casinos are allowed to serve completely free drinks to customers — as well as recent reports of ranking LCB officials allegedly caught accepting favors — the dominant impression is of a system not only serving no public good, but also benefiting and punishing private interests in the most arbitrary manner imaginable.

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