Private Liquor in Virginia Off the Menu… For Now

Virginia’s Governor Bob McDonnell announced last Friday he would not be holding a special session in order to act upon his Virginia liquor store privatization plans. The reason he provided, in short, was that he didn’t believe he’d have the support among his colleagues:

“We will privatize Virginia’s ABC stores. The only question is one of timing,” he said in a statement. “As Governor, I will not call a Special Session to debate; only to act.”

Since revealing his proposals (there have been several versions) for privatization, McDonnell has faced opposition — not only among Democrats — but also within his own party. Much of the opposition’s arguments paid lip-service to protecting the people and the fear that privatization would result in increases of “social ills.” But as the debate continued and McDonnell amended the proposal with consideration to such fears, it became all too clear that the real fear was lost revenue.

McDonnell indicated earlier this month (through an aide) that he thought members of his party were being “spineless” in their opposition.

Despite his comments and the clear support of privatization from Virginia residents and businesses, lawmakers continue to oppose or lend only tepid support for privatization. They are worried about money. If the governor can’t convince them perhaps residents can. As I wrote in my letter to the Washington Post, the money taken from a booze monopoly is not guaranteed to the state; it is not their right. If they are worried about the general fund, they should cut wasteful spending.

While McDonnell has been bending over backwards in an attempt to make his plan revenue-neutral and to prove that the general fund will not shrink as a result, lawmakers need to understand that they have no right to the ill-gotten $47 million in revenue they generate by selling booze at inflated prices and keeping out competition.

The justification for government-run liquor stores was to “protect” the people. There is more than enough evidence indicating that state-run liquor stores provide no utility for the public and protect one thing — government funds. Not only do lawmakers not have a right to this revenue, but in light of the fact that the state monopoly was created and maintained under almost fraudulent claims, the argument could be made that, not only does the state have zero rights to the funds from liquor sales, but also that they ought to retroactively return the funds they appropriated from Virginians through greater tax breaks.

If the governor can’t make this fact clear to his colleagues, Virginians will continue to “vote with their dollars” by purchasing liquor from other states.