ABC plan calls for auction, no tax increase

By Andy Jenks - bio | email
Posted by Terry Alexander - email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Virginia's new ABC plan is anything but complete now that state leaders are poring over the details.

The key question: Should Virginia still be in the business of distilled spirits? Gov. Bob McDonnell says, "No". Today, we finally saw his plan to get out of it.

Say you want to buy a bottle of liquor in Virginia. Right now, there are 332 places where you can do that: They're called ABC stores, and they're run by the state. But now, there's a plan to sell them and generate a one-time windfall of half a billion dollars.

As part of the complex plan, one thousand liquor licenses would be auctioned off to the highest bidders.

"Obviously those licensees that already are in good standing and have been selling wine and beer in a  responsible way, they're gonna be given favor when it comes to the bidding process," said Eric Finkbeiner, a senior policy analyst who presented the ABC proposal.

The licenses would go mostly to big box chains, followed by wine & beer shops, and then convenience stores. Critics say that's like putting a liquor shop on every corner.

"Right now, stay the course, people know if they want to drink, where the ABC stores are, they can avoid  them if they don't choose to drink," said Rev. Doug Smith of the non-partisan Virginia Interfaith Center, which opposes privatization.

Finkbeiner later added, "You're now moving again, as we've said, into stores for the most part that are already selling wine and beer. They're going to be adding shelves; you're not going to be adding stores."

The plan also requires private stores to interview ABC workers for jobs, increase by 25% the number of enforcement agents, and train retail clerks on age verification equipment.

If it all goes according to plan -and Senate democrats say it won't- Virginia would be out of the liquor business in one year, with $500 million to spend on transportation improvements.

The Senate Majority Leader, Dick Saslaw (D-Fairfax), has advocated instead for increasing the gas tax to raise money for roads.

The McDonnell ABC plan does not call for a tax increase, however, business owners would have the option of paying a 2.5% fee to have liquor delivered to their location.

The governor's reform commission, which heard today's presentation, will vote on the plan next month. McDonnell is likely to call a special session of the General Assembly in November to debate and vote on this and other reform proposals.

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