Every time I read a story about the centerpiece of Bob McDonnell’s “transportation plan” and his “government streamlining plan” – privatizing the state Alcoholic Beverage Control system and enlarging the number of places where Virginians can get their hooch – the number of state-issued licenses being proposed for liquor outlets gets bigger and bigger.
First, I heard that he was going to sell off and license about the same number of liquor stores as we now have, 334. Then, when it was obvious to anyone who had passed fourth grade math that the transportation revenue raised wouldn’t be enough to fill the potholes in Fairfax, the number was upped to about 800 licensed locations. (That increase was greased by a lobbying consortium set up by big-box stores, grocery chains, and convenience stores, all drooling at the chance to reap liquor profits that now help fund education, police protection, and social services.)
Now, today, I read in the Richmond Times-Dispatch that we might have 1,000 or more liquor outlets: “The new model that McDonnell is considering for alcohol sales is dramatically different, with licenses auctioned to private wholesalers and as many as 1,000 retailers.”
At this rate, McDonnell might want to take a fact-finding trip to New Orleans and see a way to make that number even bigger. There, even pharmacies and tiny service stations sell hooch, which I surprisingly discovered when I went into a drug store to buy some aspirin. Right next to the headache remedies was a pretty large selection of liquor…ah, yes, marketing Big Easy style. Get the booze to give you a hangover and also pick up a remedy for your hangover, all in one trip.
Seriously, I have three problems with the governor, a graduate of Regent University, hoping to enlarge liquor-drinking opportunities for Virginians of all ages. First, I don’t hear a peep out of those fundamentalist preachers who yell and scream every time a community wants liquor by the drink in its restaurants or when gambling is proposed somewhere. Is their definition of sin different when a Pat-Robertson-endorsed Republican governor is proposing an enormous increase in booze sales?
Second, if we have 1,000 or more places where hard liquor can be purchased, just how does the state propose to guard against under-age kids buying the stuff? Won’t law enforcement costs cut substantially into whatever revenue the state can eek out of privatizing what now is an extremely lucrative – and tightly controlled – business?
The third problem is the hardest for McDonnell to get around. Exactly how does he propose, given the Republican refusal to raise any tax on any thing, to replace the money that annually flows into the General Fund? According to the ABC Board, in 2009 the sale of alcoholic beverages produced over $322 million in profit and taxes collected for the General Fund. Since almost $112 million of that was in store profits after expenses, is our right-wing governor going to raise that amount of revenue in higher liquor taxes – and dedicate that amount to the General Fund before using booze revenue for transportation?
Right now, Virginia makes a nice profit from its “sin” industries, both the lottery and the liquor monopoly. Why change that? As my Daddy used to say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
By the way, if you want a good laugh, check out this column in the Roanoke Times by Dan Casey, “Time To Brew Up a Profit.”