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McDonnell begins lobbying legislators on ABC privatization proposal

Anita Kumar

Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) said that he will start trying to persuade legislators that his proposal to privatize the state's liquor system is the "right business model" for Virginia and a "good proposition for our citizens."

McDonnell told reporters at a news conference late Wednesday that he does not know how many votes he has for the proposal in the divided General Assembly, but that his plan, unveiled hours earlier, addresses most lawmakers' concerns.

"There are some legislators that will oppose it because they aren't really concerned about transportation,'' he said. "There are some legislators that will oppose it because they don't want to see my administration succeed -- some of the Democratic party. ... But I think legislators are smart and they're fair-minded. They don't believe everything they read in the paper, they don't believe everything they may have heard in chatter."

McDonnell wants to auction off 1,000 licenses to sell liquor. The plan would provide a one-time windfall of $458 million for transportation and recurring revenue of $229 million a year through a series of fees. (Read today's article about whether the fees represent tax increases.)

"If you guarantee revenue for the state that's equivalent to the monopoly system and half a billion for transportation and if you can unleash the private sector and get the government out of a business it shouldn't be in, why not do it?" he said.

McDonnell called former Gov. Doug Wilder (D), a strong proponent of privatization, on Tuesday. He spoke to U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D), who studied the issue when he was governor, Wednesday. McDonnell said former governors Tim Kaine (D) and George Allen (R) have also supported privatization in concept.

"For 20 years, every governor has said, 'If I could design the system, I would not have a government monopoly for alcohol.' Conceptually they agree with me,'' he said.

If the plan succeeds, Virginia would be the first state since Prohibition to privatize the wholesale, distribution and retail sale of liquor.

"Thirty-two states have done it -- most for 76 years,'' he said. "This isn't starting from scratch. If government monopolies were so good, you know that some of the 32 states would have been rushing back to the government monopolies. None of them have done it. It's just the opposite."

See a full list of 18 control states and how many have partially privatized.

"For 76 years we've been distributing beer and wine in the free market,'' McDonnell said. "The only difference between beer and wine and distilled spirits is the proof of the alcohol and the shape of the bottle. That's it. We've proven we can do it safely."

McDonnell has launched a new Web site to spread (positive) information about ABC privatization and where interested citizens can sign up to get involved.

By Anita Kumar  |  September 9, 2010; 3:55 PM ET
Categories:  Anita Kumar , General Assembly 2010 , House of Delegates , Robert F. McDonnell , State Senate  
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