Delegate Mark Keam - Virginia's 35th House District

Oakton Patch covers Delegate Keam's Town Hall

Oakton Patch

Keam Listens to Public at Town Hall Meeting

About a dozen people showed, spoke against ABC privatization plan


UPDATE Del. Mark Keam speaks to constituents about the ABC privatization plan Oct. 14.

Mike Thompson, senior adviser to the Government Reform & Restructuring Commission and director of the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy, was never scheduled to attend the meeting because of a long-planned trip to Los Angeles, he said. "I would have enjoyed the opportunity and I respect Mark Keam tremendously," he said in an e-mail.

In a phone interview Oct. 19, Thompson explained the commission will be revealing details for more proposals on fixing government inefficiencies in November. Residents should not get bogged down in what he says is a $45 million shortfall between the money predicted from the ABC privatization proposal and the revenue the current ABC system provides the state, he said.

"There's going to be much more money saved than the $45M hole that is in the ABC proposal," Thompson said. "The privatization of ABC is only a small part of the government reform program."

Regardless, the privatization proposal should pass, even if the details of the proposal has to change a little to get everyone on the same page, he said.

"If you ask the public whether they think the government should be involved in the sale of liquor, an overwhelming number of people would say no," Thompson said. "The question is, how do you get the government out of it? And that's where the discussion is."


Del. Mark Keam hosted a town hall meeting focused on the ABC privatization proposal at Oakton High School on Oct. 14.

About a dozen attendees showed up, most of whom were supporters or staffers of Keam (D-35th District).

Susan Weltz of Vienna came to hear what Keam's thoughts are and to see if he had an idea of what's going to happen with the proposal moving forward. But she came with an opinion of her own.

"I have mixed feelings. I really don't think the government should run a liquor business, but on the other hand I think that the revenue is important to the state," Weltz said. "And unless they're willing to seriously think about how they want to replace it ... I don't think they should do it."

Keam began by explaining why he was holding the meeting. Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) had previously stated a special session might be necessary in November. Though the latest news from the governor's office is that's no longer the plan, Keam wanted to tap into what the public was thinking just in case.

Keam said he wanted to tap into what the constituents are thinking because he thinks this is an issue where he would want to reflect the constituents' point of view in his vote. So, he's keeping an open mind, he said.

"Even though I'm not crazy about this idea, and there are a lot questions I may have, who knows if next week they announce something else," Keam said. "At that point I want to be able to take a fresh look at it."

To give his constituents a balanced view of the plan, Keam had planned to have Mike Thompson, senior adviser to the Government Reform & Restructuring Commission and director of the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy, at his side to make a case for why ABC stores should be privatized, but Thompson did not make the meeting.

Thompson could not be reached for comment.

Keam then went into the basics of the commission's proposal: privatization of the wholesale and retail operations of ABC while allowing ABC to maintain regulatory and law enforcement authority of health, safety and advertising/marketing matters; an auction of 1,000 retail licenses, broken up into four levels based on size and shelf‐space; store locations would be based on population with a minimum bid level set for each.

"The end result, from our perspective, is the state, which is currently receiving the profits because we are state-owned businesses and the employees are state employees, that profit that we would be getting, about $112 million would now be privatized. So the private sector would get that money," Keam said.

He later explained he has no problem with the private sector getting that money, but the plan needs to find a way to make up for the loss in liquor sales every year and not just rely on a one-time profit from the initial sale to the private sector.

Those who commented seemed to be in agreement with Keam that there is a lure to privatizing the ABC stores, but they're not sure this plan is the way to do it.

"In terms of the consumer issue, as a consumer of distilled spirits I'd like to see cheaper alcohol and more choices available ...," Eric Boyle, a constituent from the 35th District. "[I]f the reason why we're doing this is for revenue, then I'm really, really concerned. If they can't cook the books enough to make it look like we're going to make money off of this at the bidding stage, I'd hate to see what happens down the road ... I would think it would fall even shorter than the projections given."

John Byrne thinks the state should control the liquor stores. "I think the reason why the state controlled it in the first place was to control the abusive use of alcohol ... To me, it's some of the mistakes you can control," he said. "And I think the main argument for keeping it is you lose the long-term revenue."

Thompson wrote an opinion on the ABC privatization plan, which posted on the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy's website Sept. 21.

"Simply put, the role of government should be enforcement and regulating alcohol sales and not its retail sales or distribution," he wrote.

Later in the piece he addressed the projected revenue from selling the stores: "The minimum projections for selling retail and wholesale licenses along with selling current assets owned by the ABC monopoly are about $450 million. Many feel that is a low-ball number and that well over $600 million can be realized up front from the sale of liquor licenses. These monies will be used to start an infrastructure investment bank that will be used to lend money to localities for specific transportation projects. These monies will be loaned at low interest rates and repaid by the localities so that the funds are continually in use over a long period of time."

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