It's still unclear why the LCB needs this new $150,000-a-year position, and what particular expertise Conti brings to run a $1.6 billion-a-year operation with 4,500 employees. Nothing against Conti's service as a legislator, but this appointment looks more like another taxpayer-funded soft landing than a smart business move.
It is hoped that hearings planned by state Sen. John Rafferty (R., Bucks), chairman of the Law and Justice Committee, which oversees the LCB, will clear up lingering questions. Among them are why the governor felt it was necessary to install Conti with such haste and without making the case of the need for the post, and whether the LCB was wasting money.
And if the LCB needs to be run more like a business, as the governor contends, shouldn't the state seriously consider privatizing the operation?
Under Newman's leadership, the agency has made great strides on behalf of consumers. He used the state's bargaining power to bring a broader variety of wines from around the world to state stores at low prices. He helped to create wine festivals in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, and expanded online sales. During his 4 1/2-year tenure, state stores opened for Sunday hours, as well.
The new LCB chairman, P.J. Stapleton, pledges to trim costs and improve services. Whether Conti and the board can make this cash cow even more profitable, they should follow Newman's innovative path, which has benefited consumers.