Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The State Liquor Store Hoax

Once again, the subject of privatizing the state liquor stores has been raised, and once again we hear the alarmist cry.

Rebecca Shaver, state executive director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said she supports the current state system and is particularly concerned about an increase in the number of liquor stores."If there is a larger number of licenses being issued, which leads to more availability, which leads to more consumption, we prefer that the system that we have in place remains in place," she said.

But is it true that more liquor stores leads to more drinking and drunk driving? Yet 17.6% of our population admits to binge drinking (7th in the nation). In sheer numbers, Pennsylvania ranked 4th in the nation for number of alcohol related fatalities (which is partly reflected by our #6 population rank). When it comes to underage drinking, we fall in the list to #22 with 30% of our minors drinking. Though 20% of them binge drink (which puts us at #18). There's only one other state in the nation (New Hampshire) which has a state run liquor store. Shouldn't we be tied for last with them in all these statistics if state run liquor stores can prevent drinking and drunk driving?

The farce of the matter is that our politicians hide behind our well-meaning alarmists in order to keep the profits from the state liquor stores headed into the general fund. We do not maintain state liquor stores for safety or to prevent underage drinking. We maintain these stores because they bring in record profits every year. The state has no business in running liquor stores. It's a bloated business that sends out glossy advertisements in the newspaper every week, and severely limits entrepreneurship in the state. The 621 state-run liquor stores could be small businesses that pay taxes and contribute to our society. Instead, we have a monopoly which does not adapt to the individual needs of each region. Instead of attempting to limit alcohol consumption and educate consumers about the dangers of alcohol, the PLCB (Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board) is planning self-serve kiosks and wants to re-brand itself with a new name, such as "Table Leaf."
Customers spend an average of three minutes in a liquor store, PLCB Chairman Patrick J. Stapleton told a state House-Senate committee recently. He called that “unacceptable.”

Officials said the renovations and new focus could generate more money for the state. The PLCB provided the state with more than $518 million for the 2008-09 fiscal year.
Rebecca Shaver, do you really want the PLCB chairman plotting on how to get customers to spend more time in the liquor store?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Do Bicyclists Deserve to be Attacked?

Many folks have noticed a rash of recent attacks on bike riders. From the South Side to the East End, these attacks are troubling. Yesterday, Mike Pintek, radio announcer for KDKA, interviewed Bill Nesper of the League of American Bicyclists who recently awarded Pittsburgh a bronze medal bike-friendly status.
Mike said: "There are some bicyclists who are just these arrogant little dorks that think that they can do anything they want because they're on a bicycle and we're being green and environmentally friendly."
Mike Pintek wonders if the recent rash of attack on cyclists is because of their "arrogance." He cites the fact that a robbery didn't occur during any of the attacks implies that the bikers somehow caused the attacks. Last November, someone threw an empty bottle of Captain Morgan rum through the rear windshield of my parked car in the middle of the night. They didn't bother stealing the CDs, radio, or other valuable items in the car. Perhaps my car was being "arrogant" and the vigilantes wanted to teach it a lesson? Or maybe more likely, they were drunk kids who didn't think there would be any ramifications for their actions, and my car was an easy target.

We need to view these attacks with some perspective. It's easy to jump to the conclusion that there is an underlying anti-bike sentiment or that this is new. Back in 2007, the City Paper published an article about a string of attacks on bicyclists back then. Now, we have more extensive reporting and blogging about them. Also, these same gangs of roving juveniles tend to target pedestrians and smash car windows as well.

Let's take this opportunity to nip this recent rash of bicyclist attacks in the bud by showing a strong police and public response that this will not be tolerated. Let's certainly not excuse the attacks because some bicyclists may be "arrogant." To me, this logic is akin to suggesting that women who wear short skirts are asking for rape. Or that men walking down the street deserve to be beat up if they flick their wrists. There is no excuse for this violence. Mike Pintek and others clearly feel threatened by the increase in bicyclists on our streets. They need to learn to live with it, and we need to show them that their behavior is unacceptable.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Raising Bus Fares and other Taxes

Steve Bland, Port Authority's CEO, is facing some tough choices. An unexpected cut in state funding (due to the state's moronic dependence on inappropriately tolling Interstate 80) is forcing Port Authority to face $25 Million in less funding. The authority is pondering cutting routes, cutting service (including eliminating nights & weekends), and increasing fares.

Mr. Bland said the authority is reluctant to raise the $2 base fare for Zone 1 because that would hurt its lowest-income customers and affect routes that are the most cost-effective.

On some urban routes, the authority's cost per passenger is less than the $2 fare, he said. Meanwhile, on routes that serve outlying suburbs, the per-passenger cost is $7 or more and the fare just $2.75.

So what Mr Bland is saying is that lowest-income customers are actually helping to subsidize the outer zone customers? Sure, raise those outer zone fares. But keep in mind that if you make a round-trip bus fare on par with parking downtown, more people will drive and park downtown. Of course, if the state can get its act together and find some funding, most of these threats can be eliminated. From Marcellus Shale to chewing tobacco, there are lots of untapped revenue sources in this state. Unfortunately, legislators are afraid they'll lose their jobs if they raise the gas tax or find other tax sources. It's up to you to tell your legislator he or she will lose their job if they allow these massive public transportation cuts to happen.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Immigration Laws in Pennsylvania

One thing always strike me about anti-immigration rhetoric and laws. Laws tend to target the immigrant and not the folks employing illegal immigrants. Case in point, the recent controversial Arizona law which makes it possible for the police to essentially harass anyone who's not lily white. This method of targeting the immigrant ends up dividing families and encourages a police state. Immigrants don't come to America because they like the weather. They come to escape hardship and get jobs. If the jobs don't exist, they won't flood our gates. In Connecticut they have scheduled immigrant pick-up stops where you can get a laborer for the day. They also have plans to build full-fledged shelters at the stops. The residents of Connecticut don't care because they get cheap labor without thinking of the long-term health care, schooling, and judicial costs. This is repeated in Home Depots across the country. If someone gets in trouble, it won't be the day employer, it will be the laborer, who will get kicked out of the country and replaced by yet another cheap immigrant laborer. It's a vicious cycle and ultimately the people who get the most hurt are the immigrants.

However, Pennsylvania's latest laws actually aim to target those employers who get cheap immigrant labor, then undercut responsible employers in state bids.

House Bills 1502 and 1503 require employers to verify the social security numbers of their employees if they are going to bid on state projects. These house bills (which you can read in their entirety and discuss at the new site Mygov365.com if you're so inclined) target the employers instead of the employees. Of course, they're still not perfect. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is quick to point out that the methods for determining whether someone has a valid social security number are flawed. However, these house bills also have overwhelming bi-partisan support. I'll be watching these closely as they goes through the State Senate.