ABC questions

There are always some oddball ideas coming out of the General Assembly. This often includes bills, or amendments to bills, designed to gauge public support for further action.

One such piece of legislation was a bill to open state ABC stores on Sundays. This contradicts other measures undertaken by state officials who have already cut back business hours at state liquor stores including delaying opening times an hour from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. As the Roanoke Times puts it: “Such legislative looniness may so drive Virginians to drink that the budget deficit could very well take care of itself.”

This does make one wonder why state officials were in such a hurry to cut back on ABC operations during a budget crisis when the state booze monopoly is one of the few government agencies turning a profit. If it makes money, it’s only good business to give more access to such a popular product. The state already taxes booze and it has no competition as residents are forced to travel to our sanitized, state run liquor stores to purchase hard liquor.

Restricting operations to only six days a week is obviously cutting off some profit potential not to mention additional lottery ticket sales.

Supermarkets and convenience stores are already allowed to sell beer and wine on Sundays and there’s no shortage of customers. Opening the ABC stores would also boost sales.

Opponents against this expansion of business have concerns about the dangers of alcohol in our society. Others don’t want to see members of their church stopping by the liquor store on the way home. Many people also don’t like the idea of having their commonwealth selling liquor to its residents. These concerns are certainly valid but they also delve into another concern.

Why is it necessary for the commonwealth to continue its liquor monopoly? If the state already taxes this product, then why not get rid of all the overhead? The ABC should shift its focus from operating liquor stores to regulating stores that are privately owned and operated. These regulations can be strict to avoid the stigma of “dirty” liquor stores in other states. If an owner gets out of line, he or she loses their license to do business. The state can even require the same bland standards currently employed at all the state ABC stores Sunday hours optional.

A legislative committee is currently reviewing ways to reform Virginia’s tax code. This is coupled with moves to streamline state government. Former Gov. Douglas Wilder recommended that lawmakers take steps toward doing away with the state liquor monopoly as part of achieving this goal. It’s an idea that deserves more scrutiny.

The General Assembly has more important work to do than to set business hours at its liquor stores.

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