While traveling 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.