McDonnell's commission backs his plan to privatize liquor sales

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Local,David Sherfinski

RICHMOND -- Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell's government reform commission on Monday formally backed his plan to privatize the state-run liquor stores, though the governor's plans to call a special General Assembly session to take up the plan remains uncertain.

Since its first meeting in June, the commission has received more than 1,700 recommendations and has approved about 90 of them, including the high-profile endeavor to end the state's 76-year monopoly on liquor sales. It previously endorsed switching certain state agencies to four-day work weeks and turning Virginia DMVs into one-stop service centers for residents.

"In the end, what this commission is about is smaller, smarter government," said Eric Finkbeiner, the governor's senior policy adviser.

The commission on Monday also endorsed expanding telecommuting options for state employees and called for the elimination of the Rail Advisory Board, a move that would save the state about $10,000 a year. The commission will detail potential savings from its recommendations in an interim report to the governor Oct. 15.

But the governor's plan to sell off the state's liquor stores to raise about $500 million for transportation projects has attracted the most attention. A revised privatization plan, unveiled last week, would generate $47 million a year less than the state now takes in from liquor sales, but McDonnell insists that savings from other reform measures would more than make up the difference.

Democrats serving on the commission, however, expressed doubts that the state would be able to recoup that money.

"It's so difficult to make the numbers work -- that's really the bottom line that we're talking about here," said Del. Bob Brink, D-Arlington. Brink; state Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple, D-Arlington; and state Sen. L. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, voted against the plan.

Former Virginia governors Doug Wilder and George Allen support McDonnell's privatization plan, and the Virginia Chamber of Commerce released a statement Monday endorsing the privatization of liquor sales "as long as it makes economic sense for the commonwealth."

Support among Virginia lawmakers is less certain. McDonnell said he wanted to call a special session of the General Assembly in November to vote on a package of government reform measures but has indicated recently that he will not do it unless he has the votes to pass it.

"Either in a special session or in January in a regular session we will energetically and enthusiastically advocate ABC privatization as one [means] of improving our road infrastructure in Virginia," McDonnell said.

dsherfinski@washingtonexaminer.com

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