From Sen. Ralph Northam (D-6th), via Virginia Beach Democratic Committee Chair Susan Mariner (bolding added by me for emphasis).
Last week, Governor Bob McDonnell unveiled his proposal to allow a private takeover of the liquor business in Virginia, a plan which he claims will provide a major source of funding for transportation projects. Let’s be clear: this is not just a proposal to privatize the Commonwealth’s 332 existing liquor stores, but to auction off 1,000 licenses to sell booze to retailers, tripling the number of stores selling hard liquor in Virginia. In addition, the plan will not generate as much revenue for mental health and substance abuse treatment programs as does the current system, and will not provide any additional funds to localities tasked with policing the increased number of outlets. As a doctor, I have difficulty buying into the concept having to sell more liquor to replace a revenue stream we already have.
Governor McDonnell’s desire to find new sources of revenue for transportation is laudable, but the reality of the situation is that our transportation needs far exceed what could be financed with the one-time shot of $450 million or so projected to be generated from the liquor license auction. In fact, $450 million is less than half of what Virginia needs to maintain its transportation network for a single year, never mind any new construction. Ultimately, we need what I and others in the Virginia Senate have been supporting for years: a bipartisan transportation commission to recommend a comprehensive and sustainable financing plan that will be voted on by the General Assembly. Such a plan could include any number of revenue generating mechanisms, but the centerpiece has to be an increase in the gas tax, which hasn’t been raised in over 20 years.
It appears likely that the General Assembly will be called to Richmond sometime in November to vote on bills drafted subsequent to the Governor’s government reform commission. Unless there are significant changes to the ABC privatization proposal, including that it is made part of a comprehensive transportation funding package, I will not support that particular legislation. Since I have been in Richmond, I have heard thousands of complaints about Virginia’s poor roads, awful traffic, and lack of transit options, but I have never heard anyone complain about not being able to get a bottle of booze. We need to spend more of our time working on the issues that are important to Virginians, and less time trying to fix things that aren’t broken.
Ralph S. Northam
Senator, Virginia’s 6th District