Report: State control of liquor biz safer
Think tank study finds control means fewer alcohol-related traffic deaths; results conflict with economists’ study.
Last Modified: April 22. 2013 1:15PM
A Harrisburg think tank has released a report that argues states with tighter control over the sale and distribution of alcohol have lower rates of alcohol-related traffic deaths than states that take a more hands’ off approach.
The study was undertaken to try to address what impact the privatization of Pennsylvania’s retail and wholesale alcohol operations would have on the number of alcohol-related traffic fatalities.
The conclusion is that eliminating the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board’s monopoly of liquor sales would mean nearly five dozen additional deaths each year.
“Following a comprehensive review of state-level data, we find that states with tighter control over the sale and distribution of alcohol have lower rates of alcohol-related traffic deaths than states that take a more hands’ off approach,” the study states. “A state with characteristics like Pennsylvania, which maintains monopoly control over the sale of at least two types of alcohol at the retail level and at least one type of alcohol at the wholesale level, has 58 fewer adult deaths per year from alcohol related traffic accidents than states that have no such controls.”
The findings by the Keystone Research Center, a nonprofit public policy organization, differ from a previously released study conducted by economists John Pulito and Antony Davies. The findings by those two found that states with tighter control of the sale and distribution of alcohol, in some instances, have higher rates of alcohol-related fatalities.
In testimony before a state Senate Law and Justice Committee in 2011 regarding his research, Davies said, “The results … indicate that state control of alcohol markets does not contribute to improved social outcomes and, disturbingly in the case of DUI fatalities, appears to contribute to reduced social outcomes.”
In the pair’s original published policy brief, titled “Government-Run Liquor Stores: The Social Impact of Privatization,” they concluded “Divestiture of Pennsylvania’s state liquor stores would represent a financial windfall to the state, while posing no threat to public safety, as it would not result in the social ills many opponents of privatization fear.”
Deb Beck, president of Drug and Alcohol Service Providers of Pennsylvania, said her reaction to the Pulito and Davies report was disbelief.
“(I) just could not figure out how that could be true,” Beck said during a conference call Tuesday.
The call also included Mark Price, an economist who co-authored the report titled “The Road Less Traveled: States That More Tightly Control the Sale and Distribution of Alcohol Have Lower Alcohol-Related Fatalities,” and Stephen Herzenberg, an economist and executive director of the Keystone Research Center.
Not only couldn’t Beck believe it, but neither could Price and Herzenberg.
Closer look at study
So the Pulito and Davies study, done in 2009 for the Commonwealth Foundation for Public Policy Alternatives, was given a closer look and Keystone Research Center staffers figured out why the original study had the results that were reported.
Jay Ostrich, director of public affairs for the Commonwealth Foundation for Public Policy Alternatives, blasted the new report, calling it “shameful.”
He said the Keystone Research Center is “a union-controlled organization bent on protecting the union-backed government monopoly at all costs.”
“They added more variables,” Ostrich noted. “There’s a reason they’re stretching it that far. The truth is not showing the outcome they want it to.”
Price said there were two variables not included in the Pulito and Davies paper that make the results much different. He said factoring in states’ per capita income and per capita miles traveled “got their results reversed.”
Including vehicle miles traveled and per capita income is important because control states tend to be ones in which people drive farther and have lower incomes. Driving more increases the likelihood of fatal traffic accidents, while lower incomes mean people are less likely to be driving in newer cars with strong safety features, Price contended.
The reason the research was re-examined and a new report was issued on the same topic by the Keystone Research Center came down to the way the Pulito and Davies report has “been used to muddy the waters in the debate” over how privatizing the state’s liquor system would impact the state, Herzenberg said.
Herzenberg said the report the Keystone Research Center released makes “the water on this issue … pretty clear.”
Keystone aims to set the record straight for policymakers and others who have cited the Pulito and Davies research.
“What impact will privatization have on the safety of our roads and highways? This is a critical question for policymakers to answer, and they should have the facts,” said Price.