Privatization is a magical idea, a way to shrink government without cutting services or raising taxes. But while there has been support for outsourcing the oversight of parks and tollbooths, one public monopoly hasn’t folded: liquor sales. Eighteen states hedge against the ills of hard booze by retaining control over distribution. Now, in an unusual flurry of discussion, officials in five states are arguing for a reduced role.
But none is likely to have an easy time of it, as Virginia’s Bob McDonnell learned recently. The GOP governor took office this year on a business-minded platform, promising to auction off 1,000 new liquor licenses and use the funds to fix crumbling roads. The move would triple the number of stores selling alcohol, however, a prospect that’s set off a conservative-vs.-conservative feud: it’s the small-government crowd (McDonnell and his partisans) against the clean-living crew (the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, among others)—and for now, the latter is winning. Last month, McDonnell shelved the idea until the next session.