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Wilder: McDonnell liquor plan faces tough fight

Rosalind Helderman

Former Gov. Doug Wilder (D), a strong proponent of privatizing state-run liquor stores, is predicting a tough -- though not insurmountable -- road for Gov. Bob McDonnell's proposal to end Virginia's spirits monopoly.

"He's in a difficult situation," Wilder said. "Can it be done? Yes. Will it be done tomorrow? No."

Wilder, who chaired a government reform commission that recommended ABC privatization and periodically discusses the idea with McDonnell, said he senses organized opposition to the concept and but little organized support.

"I have not identified nor seen the supporters -- the people who would be called upon to pass this thing," Wilder said. "But there's organization for the opposition. It's pretty apparent, and you don't have to go far for it."

Wilder declined to endorse McDonnell's Democratic opponent for the governor's mansion last year and he has remained chummy with the Republican executive. He praised McDonnell for pushing privatization, commending him for making "tremendous strides" in advancing the idea.

But he said McDonnell has not successfully convinced the public that there are advantages for consumers in privatization. Meanwhile, the possible disadvantages are being pushed by opponents, including the possibility of lost jobs for ABC employees, more liquor sales in conservative rural areas and new fees for restaurants and other parts of the industry.

McDonnell will unveil a plan Wednesday that will include a 4 percent tax on the gross liquor receipts of restaurants, a 1.5 percent tax on receipts at grocery stores and other retail outlets, a 1 percent tax on liquor wholesalers and a $17.50 per gallon excise tax.

UPDATE 2:04 p.m.: Presentations from the governor's office indicate his proposal includes a 2.5 percent tax on restaurant receipts imposed on eateries that choose to get liquor discounts by buying their stock from wholesalers. Though multiple sources, including state Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple (D-Arlington) said they were briefed late yesterday on an additional 1.5 percent fee to be imposed both on restaurants and retail establishments, the fee appears to have dropped out of the governor's proposal and is not reflected in the presentation documents.

Wilder said he wasn't wild about the idea of a new fee on restaurants. "I would shy away from it -- that's just my nature," he said. "That, to me, would be a last resort."

But Wilder also noted that some legislators, including fellow Democrats, who are now criticizing McDonnell's fees are the very people who insisted they would never support a plan that did not fully replace the $260 million a year the state earns from its ABC stores.

"In the same breath as these folks are saying a plan needs to replace every dime ... when they hear what amounts to the replacing, they start fighting it and objecting to it," he said.

By Rosalind Helderman  |  September 8, 2010; 12:11 PM ET
Categories:  Liquor privatization , Robert F. McDonnell , Rosalind Helderman  
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