Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The case for privatization: Should Virginia be in the booze business?

Cross-posted at the Washington Examiner

Ask anyone in Virginia what they think about Gov. Bob McDonnell's idea to privatize ABC stores to get government out of the business of selling distilled spirits, and the responses are likely to be as varied as the alcoholic beverages available in those outlets.

The Governor has made it clear that he does not believe government should be in the business of selling alcohol but, instead, should concentrate on the core functions of government. At his recent round of town hall meetings throughout the Commonwealth, he reiterated his belief that Virginia should shed itself of ABC stores and pour that money -- some estimates are up to $500 million -- into ever-increasing transportation needs.

After being in the business for 76 years, Virginia is one of only 18 states that still control their alcoholic beverage stores.

Concerns have been expressed that Virginia will become another Maryland where neon signs permeate some establishments selling beer, wine, and liquor. Beer and wine distributors have opposed the idea, fearing increased competition.

Some religious groups object to what they consider to be easier access. However, privatization would not put an ABC store on every corner, as some have suggested. While there are currently 6,657 wine and beer retail outlets and 332 ABC stores, under privatization there actually may be a net reduction in the number of outlets selling alcohol because current retailers may obtain permits to add distilled spirits to their distribution of beer and wine.

House Democratic leadership has announced they will not support the idea despite the fact Democratic governors Mark Warner, Tim Kaine, and Doug Wilder supported privatization.

Hearing from a number of conservative bloggers in the Commonwealth, the overwhelming sense appears to be that ABC privatization is an idea whose time has arrived. Some have even questioned why conservatives, who believe in less government, would not embrace Gov. McDonnell's plan.

Fellow Washington Examiner and Virginia blogosphere blogger Norm Leahy opined on this issue in a recent Examiner piece. His thoughts that are shared by many conservative bloggers:
I'm still very much of the camp which believes that privatization is long overdue and ought to proceed regardless of the pitfalls (or the hit to the state’s income). Government has no business selling booze and ought to get out as soon as possible. To argue otherwise implies that because the state makes so much money off liquor, it ought to take over other businesses as well and milk them for the public good -- say automobiles, banks, insurance companies, brokerage houses, mortgage firms...oh, wait...
Privatization of Virginia's ABC stores is a bipartisan idea that, as one staffer said, would have been accomplished years ago by the Democrats if it was easy.

Has the time come for the government monopoly over alcohol consumption in Virginia to end? As Norm Leahy proposed, "Government has no business selling booze and ought to get out as soon as possible." Many in the Commonwealth agree.

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