Governor backs Va. senator’s plan for ABC stores

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January 31, 2011

11:30 PM

Private liquor stores are one step closer to reality in the commonwealth of Virginia.

Delegate Bob Brink (D-Arlington) introduced a bill Jan. 20 that would essentially privatize the state’s more than 330 Alcoholic Beverage Control stores. Under Brink’s bill, which is supported by Va. Gov. Bob McDonnell, the state would auction off licenses for the operation of liquor stores to private entities, while the state would still regulate the sale of alcoholic beverages.

Brink said that he introduced the bill into the House of Delegates to ensure that it is debated in both houses of the General Assembly during the current legislative session.

“Most people agree that selling hard liquor isn’t a core function of government, and that, all things being equal, it wouldn’t be a bad thing for the Commonwealth to get out of the business,” he said in a press release.

McDonnell said that Brink’s bill was a positive step toward ABC privatization.

“We are pleased by the news that a senior House Democrat, Delegate Bob Brink (D-Arlington), will introduce legislation to privatize ABC retail operations in the Commonwealth,” McDonnell said in a press release.

Although Brink is listed as the sponsor of the bill, he has voiced concerns about McDonnell’s plan.

“The fact of the matter is that Virginia has been in the liquor store business since the repeal of Prohibition,” he said. “By all accounts, the business is well run and extremely profitable. So the debate about privatization came down to numbers: how much would the sell-off yield in one-time windfall funding for transportation; would the state treasury continue to receive the current level of profits and taxes; and what would be the effect on local communities of tripling the number of outlets selling distilled spirits (from 334 to 1,000)?”

Despite these reservations, McDonnell said that ABC privatization would be a positive factor on state revenue, particularly in transportation funding.

“ABC privatization, as laid out in our plan, will put hundreds of millions into roads without raising taxes,” McDonnell said. “It will actually add $13 million annually to the General Fund through cost avoidance. It will eliminate a government monopoly and simply place Virginia among the other 32 states that have already privatized the sale of beer, wine and distilled spirits. It is a sound plan that is supported by the citizens and businesses of Virginia.”

According to a poll of more than 1,000 Virginians conducted by Christopher Newport University, 52 percent of the state’s population supported ABC privatization; 38 percent opposed it.

Both McDonnell and Brink said that the bill in its current form faces an uphill battle in the Republican-led house. A similar bill has already been introduced in the Democrat-controlled Virginia Senate.

“Because this is an important issue and one in which the Governor has invested a great deal of time and political capital, I’m hoping that the House leadership will give it a hearing,” Brink said. “It all comes down to the numbers, and I have major concerns about whether the numbers work in this version of the plan. The only way we’ll be able to ascertain that is if the plan is discussed and aired in public.”

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