Bob McDonnell, the governor of Virginia, is proposing privatizing liquor stores which are now run by the state. I must say that I understand the governor's point. I don't think the government should be in the liquor business, and liquor stores ought to be highly regulated, zoned tightly, and heavily taxed. That said, the proposal is troubling for it appears to open up the possibility of a flood of liquor stores in the poorest neighborhoods of our state.
I also think a far bigger issue for us in Charlottesville is the easy availability of cheap beer for University students. I would like to see the governor and General Assembly tackle that problem, and do so with urgency. We've already heard reports of students in the emergency room with alcohol poisoning, and they just got here this week.
Meanwhile, the churches of Virginia have come out against the liquor store proposal. The churches have a lobbying arm in Richmond, the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, and this came from C. Douglas Smith, the director (in photo below), a few days ago:
While travelling out of state recently, I found myself in an urban center where alcohol sales have been privatized. It was an ugly scene: corner stores selling liquor next to seedy bars; steel grates covering smokey windows lit only by the neon signs that beckoned people inside for cheap whiskey. The traffic was regular. Not far away a Salvation Army drop-in facility did its best to provide refuge for God's children afflicted with life's challenges -- abuse, mental illness, addiction -- and beset by struggle.
You have seen the newspapers and now know that there are those in state government who want to increase the number of liquor stores from around 300 to over 1000. While I am sure they are not interested in having our cities and towns turn into the kind of place I described, too often the unintended consequences of well meaning politicians become damaging and detrimental to families. If we truly believe that encouraging family values begins with valuing families we need to ensure communities are given every chance to thrive.
A few weeks back we reached out to you and asked what you thought about the Governor's plan to privatize ABC retail sales and increase the number of outlets. Your response was overwhelming: 80% of you said "No." Since then we have heard directly from a number of leaders in the faith community: from bishops, rabbis and imams. We seem to be all in agreement that the state should not be in the business of selling liquor at all. But we also seem to be in agreement that having the state control the sale of distilled spirits in a highly regulated way is far better than multiplying the number of retail locations by 100, 200, 300 percent or likely more.
Today we are making our position on the issue clear in our report, Off the Wagon: Why ABC Privatization is a Bad Idea. Virginia does not need to privatize liquor stores. We are releasing a policy paper clearly outlining how other states have failed to benefit from store expansions; connecting the dots on previous research that shows the social downside to privatizing liquor sales; and showing how ABC is a well-run, efficient, and reliable revenue generator for the state and provides funding for important programs that address substance abuse and mental health.
We don't need to turn every Sheets and Wawa gas station, every corner store, every roadside bodega into a cocktail motor-through. Our communities don't need it. Our state doesn't need it. And the risks are too great.
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We're organizing right now to make sure the voice of faithful Virginians is heard