Dear Gov. McAuliffe: Please Don’t Raise Liquor Prices

Dear Gov. McAuliffe: Please Don’t Raise Liquor Prices

Virginia's state-owned liquor stores already mark up prices 69 percent before excise taxes. Why must Terry McAuliffe ask more?

The Honorable Terry McAuliffe
Governor of Virginia
Office of the Governor
1111 East Broad Street
Richmond, VA 23219

Dear Governor McAuliffe,

I write today with a heavy heart and, I fear, a soon-to-be-lighter wallet. News has just reached me of your proposal to shore up gaps in Commonwealth revenue by applying an additional, unspecified markup to liquor prices. Not to put too fine a point on it, but this is an appalling misstep.

Considering that the Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC, the state monopoly) currently marks up liquor prices by 69 percent (and this before excise taxes), I have to ask how much additional revenue you can reasonably expect to squeeze from Virginia’s drinkers.

Have we not suffered enough? Costs for everything from milk to gasoline to health insurance (ahem) have increased in the last several years, but wages have not kept up (ahem!). As people cope with inflated prices in yet another area of life, how can you in good conscience come between them and the comfort of an affordable dram of whisky? What next, deny an asthmatic his inhaler?

Far more likely than the increased revenue in your proposed scenario, most people without a dependency issue will simply opt for lower consumption. This would translate to a somewhat less than impressive bump for revenues. We must also consider the negative economic impact—not just for individuals, but for restaurants and their patrons, who will be forced to cope with raised prices. It is a ripple effect that will be felt far beyond the Commonwealth’s coffers.

Consider as well, that for those who live near Washington DC or the borders of another state it is already preferable to avoid buying liquor in Virginia. Leave aside the prices for just a moment. The ABC as Virginians know it is an execrable institution, routinely staffed by incompetents who cannot be bothered to properly place an order from their own meager and pedestrian catalogue. I speak from experience, having tried and failed multiple times to order a particular bottle before giving up and driving to Charleston, South Carolina to pluck it directly from the shelves there. If ABC offered quality products and dependable service, perhaps that would take some of the sting out of this price increase.

I would be remiss if I did not also suggest that perhaps the budget shortfall would be that much less severe if the ABC did not employ agents to terrorize college students, students who then sue the Commonwealth to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars. As I think the numbers show, there are better uses for Virginia’s money than on a team of overzealous buzzkills.

Virginia has been failing in this regard since long before you took office; in fact, long before you ever moved here from New York. I do not mean to place the blame for this woeful alcohol situation entirely on your shoulders—just the responsibility for making it better.

Virginia’s centralized control of liquor sales is a backwards holdover from a less-enlightened time, and it is your duty to lead us out of this monopolistic morass into a bright and boozy future. Instead, by supporting this price increase you place yourself squarely in opposition to the interests of the drinking people of Virginia, and indeed to common decency itself. Shame on you.

Warmest Regards,

 

Neal Dewing
Portsmouth, VA

cc: Publisher, TheFederalist.com

Neal Dewing lives and works in Portsmouth, Virginia. He is the co-host of The Fifth Estate, a podcast examining culture and politics.
Photo Tom Woodward / Flickr
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