Va. Senate Dem: Selling ABC Stores Dead

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    Gov. Bob McDonnell's plan to raise money for transportation by selling Virginia's state-owned liquor stores is dead, the Senate's top Democrat said Thursday.

    "I would say right now that it would not pass, nor is it even close ... in the Senate, and I would doubt whether he could get it out of the House," said Senate Majority Leader Richard L. Saslaw, D-Fairfax County.

    McDonnell wants to apply what he says will be $300 million to $500 million from selling Virginia's 332 government-run Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control stores to the long-deferred transportation maintenance needs.

    Saslaw and other Democrats question McDonnell's estimates and say the annual revenues that the stores now generate in taxes and profits could not be matched by privately run stores. He cited Ohio's privatization effort as an example.

    "Here's Ohio with 2 1/2 times our population and 1,000 stores, (and) the state gets $167 million. Us, with 40 percent of (Ohio's) population is getting $230 million," Saslaw told reporters.

    The only way to achieve the same revenues after privatization, Saslaw contends, is to triple the amount of liquor sold in Virginia.

    "We're going to build roads by putting drunks out there driving these cars," Saslaw said with a laugh.

    McDonnell spokesman J. Tucker Martin said Saslaw's comparison to Ohio is flawed because Ohio privatized only its retail stores, while the proposal most likely for Virginia calls for privatizing both the retail stores and the wholesale and distribution of alcohol, all now controlled by the state.

    "Senator Saslaw needs to answer Virginians as to why he believes its more important to preserve an outdated government monopoly instead of providing hundreds of millions for road building and congestion relief," Martin said.

    Saslaw spoke as McDonnell prepared for the latest stop in his statewide series of town hall-style forums to promote liquor store privatization and other reforms he wants the General Assembly to consider in a special session he plans convene this fall.

    McDonnell's Thursday forum in the Richmond suburb of Chester is part of eight he plans to hold statewide during the late summer.