A bout 21/2 years ago, I wrote a column in which I strongly suggested it was time for Pennsylvania to get out of the booze business.
I had no dog in the fight since I don't buy or drink alcohol, I don't care how far someone has to drive to purchase their alcohol and I don't care a wit about the politics involved.
And it's not like I think the PLCB has done a lousy job. It hasn't. In fact, I'm pretty much satisfied with the way it has handled liquor and wine sales in this state and its enforcement of liquor laws.
But, on principle, I do object when any government body competes with for-profits in our free-market system. There's not a level playing field since the state has advantages no private business owner will ever have.
I don't like it.
That's the side I come down on.
Then, last week, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board announced it enjoyed record profits in the last fiscal year -- July 1, 2012, to June 30, 2013.
In a nutshell, the PLCB had its best year at a time when lawmakers and special interests were doing their darndest to dismantle the PLCB system.
The PLCB has been controlling the sale of wine and liquor in this state for 80 years, and now, in the midst of all this discussion and confusion about turning it all over to private enterprise, the state has had its most profitable year. Ever.
When a point needed to be made, the PLCB made it in the biggest of ways. Through increased sales and cost controls, a net income of $128.4 million was earned in the last fiscal year. That's after all the bills were paid. Profit, in other words.
That represents an increase of $24.9 million -- up 24 percent over the previous year.
Not only are profits up, but revenue is up, as well. From the 600 state stores, revenue reached almost $2.2 billion, a 4.5 percent increase. That's also a record.
Retail wine sales jumped 6 percent, their strongest growth ever.
That places me solidly between a rock and a hard place.
Suddenly the question becomes: How can we or should we continue trying to get the state out of the liquor business when it's just had its most financially successful year?
Keep in mind that the governor and the Legislature have been trying mightily for a couple of years to mount a campaign that would result in privatizing liquor and wine sales. It's been unsuccessful, so far.
And this increase in profits will make that task more difficult, I'm certain.
It forces me to reconsider my long-held stance, as well.
After all, as long as the state is earning record profits and revenue, it's good for taxpayers. And I'm a taxpayer in this state, too. So why change something that's working so well? Why rock the boat?
Only one reason I can think of -- it's still the right thing to do.
I happen to believe it's inappropriate for state government -- or, for that matter, any government body -- to compete against private businesses in the pursuit of revenue and profits.
It's not the proper role of government.
And it's not good public policy.
That holds true regardless of the profits (or losses) sustained by any government-run enterprise.
It's either right or wrong.
And state control of liquor and wine sales is wrong.
That's still reason enough to privatize it.
Columns by Larry A. Hicks, Dispatch columnist, run Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.