The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Wednesday, February 11, 2004  

No Surprise, It Pertains to Taxes
But Also to Wine, Liquor, and Monopoly

One of the many strange things about living in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and I could go on and on and on, is that the state, or, forgive me, the commonwealth, has a monopoly on the distribution of liquor and wine through what are commonly known as “state stores,” or, more officially, or at least commercially, in most cases, as Wine & Spirit Shoppes. (“Shoppes.” Isn’t that cute? Isn’t that quaint? Isn’t that just so Lancaster? Good for tourism, I guess.)

What almost nobody in Pennsylvania will say out loud is that the state’s control of liquor distribution means that “sin taxes,” so popular when normal funds -- you know, that which is derived from such things as, I don’t know, corporate profits, employment, wholesale and retail sales, etc. -- are restrained, are thus strictly limited to tobacco.

Do I like or appreciate this? No, of course not. I say that as a pack-a-day smoker who can’t wait to quit.

But how about a nickel, a dime, a quarter, a dollar here or there on bottles of liquor or wine? In Pennsylvania? Unthinkable. Because, and I’m sure you already have put two and two together, increased taxes on booze in Pennsylvania might, just might, reduce the public sector’s revenues. Gosh, can’t let that happen. Instead, let’s go after the smokers, recently hit by yet another 50 cents a pack tax hike.

What the hell, who cares? This nonsense, this commonwealth monopoly, has been in place for decades. What can we do? Let’s live with it.

Well, okay, sure, fine, but here’s one for you. The Wine & Spirit Shoppes are currently promoting and selling a book, The French Paradox and Drinking for Health, by Gene Ford, Tom Hall, and Norman M. Kaplan, that actively and assertively promotes the consumption of alcohol.

It’s right there at the checkout counter.

Isn’t that nice.

The very same legislature and governor’s office that have proved time and again to be willing, eager even, to raise taxes on cigarettes, and lest we not forget, peronsal income, continue to treat liquor and wine, and even beer, not only as completely off limits to additional taxes, but for now, through the state stores, they are doing everything in their power to promote the consumption of the very same beverages.

Am I the only person in Pennsylvania who has noticed this?

[Post-publication addendum: I trust even Norah Vincent, my fellow, and frighteningly nearby, Pennsylvanian, she who, by way of keeper Lisa McNulty, turned down my effort at reconciliation through an invitation to lunch, and who recently has been spotted out and about the web sporting a beard of one sort or another (a personal ad brought to my attention by a prominent feminist writer), and she the co-authoress of the career-summation work that goes by the title, How to Sound Smart, and she who either paid a great deal or nothing at all for her Williams College degree (1990), in philosophy of all things, if you can believe it, understands the reference made in the title of this post.]

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