Governor Bob McDonnell began his statewide Town Hall Tour on Wednesday evening in Roanoke. Perhaps one of the hottest issues discussed was McDonnell’s plan to privatize Virginia’s state run ABC stores.
If privatized, the state would sell wholesale and retail licenses while maintaining the authority to grant licenses to liquor stores.
The licenses would be sold through a bidding process, with the highest bidder achieving the right to sell liquor. Licenses would be designed for three types of sellers including large grocery stores, liquor shops, and convenience stores.
By auctioning licenses, the state would receive funds immediately and it would also receive money continually from the sale of licenses.
Currently, Virginia owns 332 ABC stores that sell hard liquor. Under McDonnell’s plan, the number of retail outlets could increase by several hundred.
Opponents to the plan cite concerns that the privatization of liquor sales could have negative impacts on communities. McDonnell has addressed concerns that local governments would lose control over the placement and advertising of liquor stores, insisting that local governments would regulate signs and marketing for new stores.
Lee Spiegel, Coordinator of Pulaski Community Partners Coalition (PCPC) said that while not directly opposed to the plan, she and other volunteers with PCPC had questions.
“Volunteers of PCPC and other coalitions across the state have concerns. We know that the more availability there is of a substance, the more it is used or abuse,” said Spiegel. “Having more liquor stores and making it more affordable will increase use.”
Additionally, Spiegel voiced concerns about the Governor’s plan that funds will be set aside for prevention and recovery from alcohol abuse, similar to the way the state lottery funds were intended for education.
“The money may not necessarily go where they promise, they may not make enough money to cover the true expenses of what it will cost localities and the state, including severance packages for employees and the sale of current state owned ABC buildings,” Spiegel said. “This plan may or may not make all this money back immediately. The cost to individual counties for increased alcohol issues has not been fully considered.”
Currently, Spiegel said that ABC stores have implemented many programs to return funds to communities and provides grants for education and prevention. Currently, ABC stores have an internal system of completing compliance checks, and she is uncertain how these would be carried out if liquor sales are privatized.
McDonnell’s Town Hall Tour includes stops in Norfolk, Chester, Fredericksburg, Fairfax, Harrisonburg, Danville and Bristol and will conclude on August 31.