Should Alcohol Bureaucrats Be Dissing the Will of the People?
State alcohol regulators, the bureaucrats that enforce the liquor laws in each state, have had it tough over the past few years. Budgets have been cut to account for reduced revenue and debt, while at the same time new challenges have confronted the regulators from increased products in the market to new technologies that challenge existing regulatory structures.
Two types of regulatory structures exist in the various states: The "Control State" and the "Open State". The primary difference is in "control states" it is the state that is in the business of wholesaling, retailing or both. Some control states only play in the market with spirits, leaving beer and wine to the free market. A smaller number of states control nearly everything.
The greatest existential challenge to the control state structure in the past couple of years has been the ballot initiative in Washington State that passed and, by vote of the populace—not legislators—put the sale of spirits in the hands of the free market and provided a variety of other reforms to Washington's other alcohol control and distribution laws. In addition, other states are considering reform that would turn control states into "open", "free market" states for the sale and distribution of alcohol.
This is a disturbing trend to regulators and they aren't necessarily taking it sitting down.
At the most recent meeting of the national association of control states, The National Alcohol Beverage Control Association (NABCA), the incoming president, Mark Bodi of the New Hampshire State Liquor Commission, had something to say about the privatization trend according to an article at Wine & Spirits Daily:
"Going from control to virtual un-control is not good for anyone. New taxes, higher prices, unfair distribution, regulatory uncertainties" and lawsuits "are not good for anyone in this room. We can never afford to let Costco again or anyone else control the debate or be so influential in an election."
Bodi is referring to the fact that in Washington State, Costco, hampered by the state control of spirits and other old laws that proved of little value today, funded the ballot initiative to the tune of $20 million.
Here's what I'm wondering. What business does an association of appointed bureaucrats have in advocating for, and appearing to want to affect, certain alcohol policy when their charge is not to make policy but rather to carry out the laws of the state?
What business do alcohol bureaucrats have dissing the will of the people, whether their will was instigated by Costco or anyone else?
This concerns me for the simple reason that it is in the best interests of the individual bureaucrats at the various state alcohol regulatory bodies to have more regulations to enforce. Their most basic interest is self interest, like others. What's best for them is more more responsibility and less hours working. More importantly, the NABCA has made it absolutely clear in the past that their advocacy efforts tend to anti-consumer.
Not long ago, the NABCA voted to support HR 5034 and HR 1161. These bill in Congress would have stripped wine retailers of their constitutional Commerce Clause protections to be free of state based discrimination. The bills were the creation of beer and wine wholesalers who greedily attempted to work out a method of keeping consumers from having wine shipped to them directly from out-of-state retailers and wineries.
Now, according to incoming President Bodi, the NABCA wants to prevent the public from voting on changes to the way alcohol might be regulated in states. Bodi characterizes some simple changes to regulatory laws that came out of the Washington initiative as "virtual uncontrol".
But again, these regulators that make up the membership of the NABCA are not policy makers. Nor are they charged with being advocates for any particular regulatory structure. They are charged, simply, with carrying out the will of the people as it pertains to alcohol control.
On the bright side, Bodi did seem to understand that the job of the alcohol regulatory control system is to serve consumers when he noted the necessity of "revising blue laws for new laws that are realistic, effective and consumer friendly….More than ever we need to work together. Good regulation, not necessarily more regulation, will promote more business."