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Punch Drunk

This Week: Drunken State

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The privatization of the state's liquor distribution system is something I've always supported. It would deliver a quick influx of cash for badly needed transportation projects (shitty roads need a-fixin') and cheaper prices for consumers due to more competition. It would get bureaucracy's big nose out of something that it had no business in to start with. All of these objectives sound grand — grossly oversimplified, yes, but grand.

Now Gov. Bob McDonnell is beginning to roll out the fine print, and it's looking a bit more complex. In fact, the vagaries of each little condition and supposed trade-off in McDonnell's “plan” seem to be confusing both sides of the aisle.

The next few sentences will give you a headache but it's my best attempt at making some sense of this debacle.

Earlier this week, in the seemingly never-ending string of add-ons to his master plan, McDonnell proposed a 4 percent tax on drinks sold in bars and restaurants. This new tax would be imposed on businesses' gross receipts for alcohol sales rather than being tacked onto customers' bills. So basically, the governor was asking the small-business (restaurant) owners to salad fork over 4 percent of their alcohol sales. This was to make up for a percentage of the annual income that the state would lose from not being in the liquor biz anymore.

Well this, if you could imagine, did not sit well with anyone. The Democrats gladly seized the read-my-lips opportunity — McDonnell's campaign, as you recall, rested on the premise that there would be no new taxes. The conservative base distanced itself for the same reason. Meanwhile, we poor restaurant folk seemed to be getting thrown under the bus for reasons out of our control.

I could bore you with greater detail here but the point is moot now because Gov. Bob and the fellas rescinded the 4 percent tax component, two days after they introduced it. Instead they changed it to an “optional convenience fee” of 2.5 percent and Oh-my-god are you still even reading this? What the hell is wrong with you?

OK, let's push the easy button:

The plan to privatize the Virginia ABC is great in theory, unfortunately, on paper, the numbers aren't matching up like McDonnell's hair piece said they would. So now his team is scrambling to make everything look pretty and McDonnell is penning a glossy Op-Ed in The Richmond Times-Dispatch under the pretense that he knows exactly what he's doing, and everyone's cautious but optimistic, and it's all just peachy.

In reality, McDonnell, the good ‘ol boys, the Dems, Bill Pantele, Tom Jefferson, Ken the Cooch, Nutzy and everyone else involved, know next to nothing about how this will all pan out. It's impossible to tell at this moment if this plan will make sense for Virginia. We don't have the real hard numbers. We certainly don't have a shortage of numbers, they're just all made up.

Meanwhile, my restaurant brethren and I get to watch a bunch of lawmakers play with their Monopoly money, while we pray that we'll squeeze 500 dollars out of the lunch rush today. Not to mention the fact that we're constantly dealing with the jack-booted enforcement arm of the state ABC, which apparently would only grow under the new privatization plan. Great, we need more cowboys coming into our place of business and enforcing a bunch of antiquated liquor laws. They're a big help.

Bottom line: Cheaper liquor is coming, folks. But it might just come at a hefty cost to small-business owners.

Richmond bartender Jack Lauterback consumes and slings drinks at a number of local establishments. He also writes a surly blog at http://jackgoesforth.blogspot.com. Find him on Twitter @jackgoesforth. Have a question or comment for the bartender? E-mail: bartender@styleweekly.com.

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