David Reynolds: Sinful solutions

Column by David Reynolds
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How’s business? You know, at your store. You say you don’t own a store. Sure you do. You and I own a whole chain of stores clear across the Commonwealth. I know that they are sometimes easy to overlook. They are small and we tend to hide them in old strip malls. But what is great is that our customers seem to have no trouble finding us. And they don’t object to our prices, unless they live near our borders. There we have competition. And as store owners we hate competition. But let’s be thankful for government. They hate competition, too.

By now if you haven’t figured out the subject of this week’s sermon you need to get another bottle. It should be as easy as ABC. In Virginia we know what those three letters stand for. It is All But Competition, in other words, revenue, revenue and more revenue.

So, how do you feel about owning a string of liquor stores? Actually, you should feel good. They make money, and not just during the holiday season. All of our ABC stores operate in the black, No other state agency can make that claim!

Yet in spite of their profitable operations, however slim, our new governor, that good looking Irish fellow, wants to shut them down – and let liquor stores spring up everywhere, except, of course, in the Drug Free Zone surrounding your kid’s school. 

If you believe that our ABC stores are a throw back to when Prohibition was repealed in 1933 and the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. Well, yes. That’s because government doesn’t go in for new ideas. Why do you think the feds bought General Motors?

The Virginia Assembly of Independent Baptists doesn’t like Mr. McDonnell’s idea. The group’s executive director, John Knapp (no relation to Lexington’s former mayor) says, “We oppose anything that we think would expand the sale and use of alcohol.”

Case closed? Not quite. We left out money – the oil that allows government to outlast the energizer bunny. The reason Virginia and six other states that run booze shops – which means that 43 states have better things to do – are thinking of selling them is the seduction of a cash windfall in these tough fiscal times. Hmm, maybe money is the root of all evil.

“Auction them off,” is the cry! Now, doesn’t that make sense? We are in the Great Recession with foreclosures and auctioning of homes, why not state liquor stores? State senator Mark Obenshain has introduced a bill in the General Assembly to do just that.

For you see my friend, the answer to last week’s headlines in the Lexington papers, the tonic for tough times, is booze. More booze. One newspaper headlined “Hard Choices Ahead As County Schools Crunch The Numbers.” Another paper, the one over on Nelson Street, went for even bigger type screaming “Closing Schools Contemplated.” No one suspected that at the other end of Nelson Street, 445 East, to be precise, lies the solution to our problem. That’s where one of our 330 stores is located.

Both papers are right. There is a big state budget shortfall. How big? No one really knows because the milk from the Northern Virginia cash cow does not flow in a consistent stream. Nonetheless, the governor “wishes” (wrong word, I know) to cut $731 million from public schools, K through 12. (Another cut calls for state workers to take ten days off without pay; yep, this recession is getting rough.)

However, the beauty of the booze solution to take away our budget blues is that it is a win-win situation. One win is to keep our ABC Stores open 24/7 and raise prices. The other, the governor’s option, is go for a one time windfall by privatizing them. Typical of a Republican, Mr. McDonnell wants a little capitalism to creep into the Old Dominion.

There is another solution to our budget woes that can help our kids. It is much bigger than buying those silly Kids First license plates. This solution is to gamble! Obey those Virginia Lottery ads – if you don’t play, you can’t win. So play more. Play for the kids. Last year the lottery raised $439 million for schools. Just buying an extra ticket each time will mean no need for a $731 million cut in state-aid! Just do it!

So, those are my two budget solutions: drink more and gamble more. And our kids will thank us.

Next problem.

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