Rep. Willingham: ‘How many liquor stores does the state own, how much liquor does the state sell, how much money does the state budget for ABC?’ Correct Answer: ‘None.”
By L.A. Williams
Christian Action League
March 8, 2019
What government agency brought $1.1 billion in sales revenue into North Carolina last year and added more than $430 million to local government and state coffers without any state funding?
Stumped? The answer is as easy as ABC. Unique in the United States, North Carolina’s local-option model for alcohol beverage control allows voters to determine whether beer, wine and spirituous liquor can be sold in their communities. Stores are run by local boards, with the state never owning or selling a single bottle of alcohol, nor designating any funding for the system.
According to Renee Metz, chief legal counsel for the ABC Commission, the state has 170 ABC Boards in its 100 counties; and nearly 20,000 alcohol sales outlets that hold more than 53,000 retail permits.
“A particular location could have four, five or six different permits” Metz explained Monday as she gave the House ABC Committee the lowdown on how alcohol sales are handled in the Tar Heel state, a system that is complex and often misunderstood.
“I’ve been with the ABC Commission for 15 years. And what I have found is that unless you work with ABC, you have very little idea how it’s done,” Metz said, as she described the roles of roughly a half dozen of the commission’s divisions, from administrative and audit functions to permitting and education outreach.
“The largest division is our permit division and they are also the ones that bring the most money back to the General Assembly. We have over 20 types of retail permits: mixed beverage, restaurant, on-premise, unfortified wine and so on. Those go to businesses, from small mom-and-pop proprietors to all the large companies that you walk into today — the gas stations, the grocery stores,” Metz said. “There are different types of permits, so we want to make sure they comply with the requirements for that type of permit.”
She said ABC works with suppliers, wholesalers and retailers; handles reports regarding non-compliance; trains law enforcement and servers to help reduce underage drinking; audits local board reports; provides assistance to the General Assembly and “answers a lot of questions from a lot of different sources.”
“The ABC Commission does not have any officers itself with law enforcement authority. We rely on ALE (Alcohol Law Enforcement) and local boards that are large enough have their own law enforcement,” Metz said. “They are the ones who walk into the locations and investigate, look at their paperwork and make sure they are complying with the law. If they find that they have not, they will send them to our legal division.”
Metz said that last fiscal year ABC received 1,413 violation reports, with penalties resulting in $1.2 million worth of fines flowing into a forfeiture fund that benefits school districts. She showed members of the committee a chart showing the General Assembly received more than $323 million from ABC last year with another $80 million going to city and county governments. More than $13 million is used to fund local alcohol education and $8.8 million goes to local law enforcement.
When Metz entertained questions from the committee, Rep. Shelly Willingham (D-Edgecombe) made a point to ask her how many liquor stores the state owns, how much liquor the state sells, and how much money the General Assembly budgets for ABC. The answer to each question was “None.”
Willingham is one of several members of the committee who have recently spoken out in support of ABC in the wake of a Program Evaluation Division report on the system issued in February. The PED found that among the southeastern states, North Carolina collects the most revenue per gallon, has the lowest outlet density and has the second lowest per capita consumption — all proof that the system works, Willingham says.
With Monday’s meeting their first of the session, the ABC Committee expects to meet again March 19 when they will likely be entertaining alcohol related legislation.