State News

Local ABC boards fight privatization

Posted December 20, 2010 1:01 p.m. EST
Updated December 21, 2010 6:55 a.m. EST

— The local government panels that operate North Carolina's 400-plus liquor stores are trying to head off potential efforts by the state Legislature or Gov. Beverly Perdue to privatize alcohol sales.

The lobbyist for the North Carolina Association of Alcoholic Beverage Control Boards wrote lawmakers last week urging them to oppose any privatization efforts. The association made the letter public on Monday.

“North Carolina ranks third among the 50 states and the District of Columbia in revenue per capita from the sale of spirits and 48th in per capita consumption. North Carolina’s control system for the sale of spirits works and accomplishes important public health and revenue objectives,” lobbyist Jon Carr wrote.

The state ABC Commission is supposed to get estimates soon from a consultant about how much money the state could get if retail sales or distribution systems were handed to outsiders. Perdue said last week she wants that information before deciding whether to pursue it.

"I've very publicly contemplated the sale of the ABC system," Perdue said Monday.

Critics argue that the state system got out of control with salaries and liquor industry gifts and junkets. A WRAL News investigation a year ago disclosed high salaries for the administrators of the New Hanover ABC system.

Walter Harris, president of the state Association of ABC Boards, said Monday that legislation passed this year will help tighten regulation and make procedures more uniform.

Going private would give the state only a one-time jolt of revenue, Harris said, while the current system generates more than $200 million a year in tax revenue, with much of it going to local government.

"We think control is a better idea than privatization," he said. "One hundred percent of the profit currently belongs to the people of North Carolina, and it goes to them. If the system were privatized, whoever that is that's operation is going to take some of that money."

State lawmakers are expected to decide in the upcoming session whether to sell the ABC system to a private entity.

When asked whether the local ABC boards were trying to protect their jobs, Harris said, "We're trying to protect the people of North Carolina."