By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
RALEIGH — Historic ABC legislation passed by North Carolina lawmakers last session could go down the drain faster than a stale cocktail if Virginia embraces privatized alcohol sales — a strong possibility as the Commonwealth clamors after promises of increased revenue during difficult times.
“We would hope that Tar Heel lawmakers would give new Alcoholic Beverage Control reforms passed last session a chance to be implemented and results evaluated, but no doubt state leaders are measuring Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell’s progress toward privatization and wondering if North Carolina should follow suit,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “It’s the dollar signs, the upfront revenue that turns heads, even though studies show that control states like ours bring in more money year in and year out with less consumption.”
Virginia’s proposed ABC privatization model, released by Gov. McDonnell’s office Sept. 8, projects $400 million to $500 million from three sources: the auction of retail licenses to highest bidders ($265 million), the sale of wholesale licenses ($160 million), and the sale of the ABC warehouse and 19-state-owned outlets ($33 million). The governor’s plan would earmark that money for transportation projects while promising to “maintain equivalent General Fund annual tax revenues” — a tall order that many say is very unlikely.
In fact, revenue estimates — $304 million a year under privatization — are already short of the $324 million Virginia expects to bring in this year as a control state with 332 ABC stores. Under privatization, the state would auction 1,000 off-premise distilled spirits licenses to the highest bidders and would not limit the number of wholesale licenses for sale.
That anticipated increase in outlets — most likely in lower-income and minority communities — and the corresponding decrease in the amount of control the state would have on spirit sales have spurred opposition from a coalition of faith organizations including the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy and the Baptist General Association of Virginia.
“The very notion that tripling the number of liquor stores will lead to better, safer roads offends logic,” Jim White, editor of the BGA’s Religious Herald, told the Washington Post. “Whether you drink or not, the idea of encouraging more liquor sales so we can build roads does not support the quality of life that Virginia’s families and communities cherish.”
The Virginia governor’s plan has gotten mixed reviews so far as did Gov. Perdue when she first began talking about the possibility of privatization in North Carolina and ordered an outside firm to assess the ABC system’s assets. Although the General Assembly’s Program Evaluation Division report, her own Budget Reform and Accountability Commission and a Joint Study Committee on ABC all recommended updates and reforms over privatization, Perdue said earlier this year she still wants to entertain the idea. The assessment procedure that had been put on hold was resumed this summer with a valuation report expected any day.
“Just like peer pressure among teens, there is pressure state to state on these issues, and we could find ourselves sandwiched between two license states if Virginia capitulates,” said the Rev. Creech. “That’s why we need to be ready, like the faith-based organizations in Virginia, to form a coalition to fight privatization efforts here.”
If it wins approval, Virginia’s new privatized system would take effect March 1, 2011, with auction of retail licenses and the sale of wholesale licenses to take place the following July and August.
Creech said the CAL will be on the lookout for the anticipated valuation report which could be released any day and for the introduction of any privatization bills when the Legislature convenes in January 2011.