If Gov. Bob McDonnell's proposal to privatize retail liquor sales fails, Virginia Democrats have no intention of shouldering all the blame for killing a measure intended to provide hundreds of millions of dollars for badly needed road projects. Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike have expressed reservations about McDonnell's plans to privatize liquor sales, including his latest plan to privatize only retail sales while maintaining a state monopoly over wholesale operations as a way of funding transportation projects. The governor's proposal is expected to generate between $200 million and $400 million in up-front money and increase annual state revenue by $13.1 million.

But when McDonnell sent his legislation only to the Democrat-controlled Senate and not the Republican-run House of Delegates, Democrats sensed that they were being set up to take the blame for killing the proposal even though many Republicans don't support it either. Traditionally, governors send matching bills to both chambers simultaneously so the legislation can move through the duel committee processes more quickly.

Democrats responded by take an unusual step of their own. They introduced McDonnell's legislation in the House last week on their own.

"I think the governor was looking to have it come through the Senate knowing it would not prevail, and then he could blame the Senate," said Sen. Dave Marsden, D-Fairfax. "I think, clearly, that the governor is nervous about it passing the House."

Del. Bob Brink, D-Arlington, who introduced the measure in the House, insists he isn't playing politics.

"This is an important issue -- one of the governor's main priorities," said Brink, a member of McDonnell's government reform commission. "It's an attempt to make sure that we have a full airing of this proposal in both [chambers] of the General Assembly."

Del. Dave Albo, R-Fairfax, is among the Republicans who doesn't support McDonnell's privatization plan, but he still sees the Democrats' move as a political ploy.

"I think Brink's just putting it in because he wants to play politics and wants Republicans to kill the governor's bill," Albo said.

McDonnell's office had only good things to say about Brink's initiative.

"We knew he wouldn't put his good name on a measure that he doesn't support," McDonnell's spokesman, Tucker Martin, said.

Del. Scott Lingamfelter, R-Prince William, had agreed to carry the bill in the House, but now may not have to, according to the governor's office.

McDonnell began an aggressive push last year to privatize both the wholesale and retail side of the state's liquor operation, but ran into roadblocks when a proposal unveiled in September showed that the plan would have blown a nearly $50 million hole annually in the state's budget. He since hired a private company to help retool the plan.

"We've spent a lot of time on this issue," said Marsden, "let's put it to bed one way or the other."

dsherfinski@washingtonexaminer.com