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McDonnell reached out to legislative auditors on retail-only liquor proposal

By Rosalind S. Helderman
Rosalind S. Helderman

Here's yet another sign that Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) is considering scaling back his proposal to privatize the state's Alcoholic Beverage Control system to a plan that would privatize retail liquor sales but leave wholesale distribution under state control:

State Sen. Edd Houck (D) says he received a call from a top McDonnell aide a few weeks ago to ask whether a legislative study of the proposal could be expanded to include a section on a retail-only privatization plan.

Houck said that, after consultation with Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission Director Glen Tittermary, he told McDonnell policy adviser Eric Finkbeiner that the audit commission had almost completed its work -- which includes an analysis of a plan McDonnell unveiled Sept. 8 to end the state's wholesale and retail distribution of distilled spirits, as well as a revised plan McDonnell put forward Sept. 30.

"They really had finished enough already that they couldn't open it up again," Houck said.

Tittermary said this week that the report should be released before the end of the month.

McDonnell is revisiting his plan now because of legislative opposition. Instead of calling a special session this fall to consider the issue, as he had once planned, the governor has said he will introduce a bill on the topic on the first day of the regular legislative session in January.

But what that bill will look like is not exactly clear. Republicans in the House of Delegates have been urging McDonnell to reconsider a retail-only option. He and his staff had previously said they preferred an option that would sell off the state's wholesale operation as well because they did not believe government should play any role in selling liquor.

Houck said he told Finkbeiner that JLARC could review the governor's proposal after it is formally submitted as proposed legislation but it wasn't feasible for the panel to analyze an evolving plan.

"You get a bill, you get it filed, and then you do an analysis," Houck said. "That's when you start getting into the decision making."

The McDonnell administration has now hired the PFM Group, an outside contractor, to analyze proposals to privatize the retail sale of liquor.

McDonnell spokesman Tucker Martin said the JLARC request was part of an effort to make sure the governor has options as he approaches the issue.

"We simply gave JLARC notice that we were studying all models of ABC privatization in advance of the General Assembly session, and they may want to be similarly broad in their review," he said. "The PFM study is totally independent of, and separate from, any work being done by JLARC."

By Rosalind S. Helderman  | November 12, 2010; 8:00 AM ET
Categories:  General Assembly 2010, House of Delegates, Liquor privatization, Rosalind Helderman, State Senate  
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Comments

State run ABC stores provide the highest rate of revenue return for the state and keep risks to the public the lowest when compared to any plan the governor has put forward or could even come up with.

no matter the plan mcdonnell comes up with, it is going to hurt virginians.

he just needs to face facts and be honest as to why it's so important to him to kill this revenue stream that saves virginians tax dollars and keeps hard liquor out of the hands of underaged drinkers.

Posted by: MarilynManson | November 12, 2010 12:18 PM | Report abuse

There's an editorial by the ABC chair, Warner administration, that appeared in the May 30, 2010, Roanoke Times (available online, "Drawbacks Exist to Privatizing Alcohol Sales"). It includes reference to lots of data and reminds us of the purpose and success of the ABC stores. He said it would be a "severe mistake to privatize the wholesale and (or) retail liquor operations."

One critical aspect is underage drinking. 90% of the alcohol drunk by underagers is in the very dangerous form of binge drinking (CDC) (75% for adults). Youth prefer hard liquor (CDC study). Sweet mixtures with cola and such are particularly appealing to girls, who have added risks of sexual assault and unintended pregnancy when intoxicated, among other gender-specific risks.

Thanks no doubt in part to tighter control through the ABC store system, Virginia ranks 45th for underage drinking, cost of harm per youth. Want to watch that go up?

Do we really want hard liquor easy to come by-- hawked up and down our town streets in gas station minimarts, convenience stores, pharmacies and groceries, 24/7?

There's a lot to lose, besides the reliable annual revenue, if we privatize.

Posted by: anonymousid | November 12, 2010 2:21 PM | Report abuse

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