By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
RALEIGH — North Carolina’s Alcohol Beverage Control System is once again under the microscope and perhaps even in the crosshairs of lawmakers who have named another study committee to look at its structure, effectiveness and ethics and to have recommendations, which could include privatization, ready before the legislative session in May.
The Joint Study Committee on Alcoholic Beverage Control, to be chaired by Sen. Don Vaughan of Guilford County and Rep. Ray Warren of Alexander County, will be the third body in less than two years to examine ABC. The General Assembly’s Program Evaluation Division labeled the system “outdated and in need of modernization” in its December 2008 report. Then Gov. Bev Perdue’s Budget Reform and Accountability Commission took up the issue last fall. The latest committee comes on the heels of revelations of outrageously high salaries being paid to ABC directors in New Hanover County and ethics violations in Mecklenburg, where the ABC board chair and a group of staffers were wined and dined by Diageo. The state ABC Commission fined the liquor company $6,000 for paying for a $9,000-plus dinner. The Mecklenburg board chair and CEO resigned as did the entire New Hanover board.
“We already know that we need more accountability and ethics reform in the ABC system. What we need to explore further is what is working now and what we can improve,” said Sen. Marc Basnight in announcing the committee.
In addition to eyeing the PED report, the group will consider the need for statewide consistency in ABC structures, rules and ethics standards and also look at the compensation structure for state and local board members and employees. A look at the oversight and accountability of ABC boards and whether the governor should have more authority, including the power to remove employees, is also on the committee agenda. And an examination of revenues, which last year totaled $259 million for state and local governments on sales of more than $700 million, will no doubt be high on the committee’s list as will the issue of privatization.
One of 18 “control states,” North Carolina allows liquor sales in some 400 state-run ABC stores in locations where voters have approved them. Last year North Carolina was 45th in the nation in spirits per capita consumption but ranked 7th in revenue per gallon generated.
“Our ABC system is not perfect. There is always room for improvement, but it offers more control and makes more sense, both in terms of dealing with alcohol problems and financially than does privatization,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League.
Research shows that consumption rises with the number of alcohol outlets, a given with privatization. Underage drinking is also harder to combat in states with privatized sales. In fact, according to the Pacific Institution for Research and Evaluation, having liquor limited to state-run stores is “probably twice as effective as other means, such as sobriety checkpoints or zero tolerance policies, in preventing underage drinking.”
The Rev. Creech said this alone should make lawmakers think twice before planning to dismantle the ABC system.
“We hope this committee will examine every aspect of this issue, address those problems that need addressing and keep the benefits of the control system that we would lose with privatization,” he said.
In addition to lawmakers, the Joint Study Committee on Alcoholic Beverage Control will include a cross-section of public members including representatives of law enforcement, the judiciary, retail sales and alcohol marketing.