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UPDATED: Wilder formally endorses McDonnell liquor plan

Rosalind Helderman

Former Gov. Doug Wilder (D) is endorsing Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell's plan to privatize the sale of distilled spirits in Virginia.

Wilder, who chaired a commission that recommended privatizing state-run liquor stores, has always been supportive of the concept. But until today, he had not put his name behind McDonnell's scheme to get the state out of the liquor business. (Indeed, just last week he called McDonnell's proposal "still a work in progress.")

In an interview Friday, Wilder said McDonnell had moved in the right direction by dropping taxes out of his proposal. Wilder said he now thinks McDonnell's plan should be adopted.

"I would underscore that we never envisioned any new taxes," Wilder said of the commission that he chaired. "I feel that he's moving in the right direction. ... In concept and in practice, I think it's the right thing to do."

He said his commission had called for ABC privatization that would be revenue-neutral. McDonnell's plan would result in $47 million less a year than the current monopoly. He said the plan may still need some work, including "some more assurances that it will be more neutral" to the general fund.

But he said the benefits of privatization would be many -- including, for the City of Richmond, a development opportunity right across the city's baseball stadium on land now occupied by the ABC state warehouse. And he said he was pleased to see McDonnell working to ensure ABC employees who lose their jobs in the transition would have a good chance of getting hired by private retailers.

With a similar statement of support from former Gov. George Allen (R) on Thursday, McDonnell can now claim that former governors from both parties support his plan, a useful rhetorical device as he tries to sell it to the public and the General Assembly.

Speaking of the public, the Wilder endorsement comes on the same day that the ABC Privatization Coalition, a group of large retailers backing the idea, released a poll showing that 57 percent of those surveyed supported selling state-owned liquor stores, while 35 percent opposed the idea.

The poll, conducted by the firm Public Opinion Strategies, included 600 likely voters, interviewed from Sept. 25 to 27. All surveys were conducted by live interviewers, which our polling experts believe is a more reliable survey technique than automated phone polls. But it's still worth keeping in mind that the poll was funded by a group that supports the idea and results probably would not have been released if they were not privatization-friendly.

The poll showed that 52 percent of independents back privatization and a stronger majority of Republicans do, as well. Democrats were split.

Regionally, voters in Northern Virginia were most receptive to the idea, with 63 percent backing it. It was least popular in an area the pollsters labeled "mountain region" -- essentially southwest Virginia -- where 52 percent opposed privatization.

Interestingly, the coalition poll showed the idea was about equally supported by drinkers and non-drinkers.

UPDATE 3:41 p.m.: Here's Wilders written statement, as released by McDonnell's office:

The final report on the Governor's Commission on Efficiency and Effectiveness, December 2002, made many recommendations. Among them was one relative to the privatizing of ABC retail operation. I was privileged to Chair that commission comprised of wide, varied and diverse citizens. The composition of the commission also was bi-partisan and represented all segments of our state's population.

I endorsed the recommendation then and I do so now.

The proposed plan offered by Governor McDonnell keeps significant ongoing revenue for the General Fund and I am confident his Commission on Government Reform will produce additional cost savings measures that will more than offset any difference. I also think that there should be no consideration of any increased taxes for the consumer. The threshold question that triggers the debate is whether the state should be in the liquor selling business anyway. I think that government has sufficient legitimate calls made upon it to provide for the safety, health and welfare of its citizens.

By Rosalind Helderman  | October 1, 2010; 2:17 PM ET
Categories:  Liquor privatization, Robert F. McDonnell, Rosalind Helderman  
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