Lobbyist for the ABC Boards sends letter to lawmakers and the Governor
By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
RALEIGH — Tar Heel lawmakers’ next legislative session is still a month away, but already at least one big issue is on the table, with Gov. Perdue talking of plans to sell the ABC system and the local ABC boards writing a letter to members of the General Assembly asking them to oppose any form of privatized liquor sales.
“Privatization does not make sense for North Carolina from a public health, public safety or economic standpoint,” wrote Jon Carr, lobbyist for the North Carolina Association of ABC Boards, in a Dec. 14 missive to legislators made public on Monday.
One of 18 so-called “control” states, North Carolina currently has 418 ABC stores run by 169 ABC boards, which are established and operated with no state funds, but generate some $275 million in revenue each year. Since no state dollars are used to sell liquor, privatization would not result in any downsizing of state government, the letter said, however such a move would downsize revenue.
“Privatization will result in a loss of revenue to local governments who receive profits from the system and whose budgets are already being cut,” Carr wrote, adding that it would also mean job loss for some 1,337 full-time and 1,042 part-time ABC board employees, as well as the stranding of local board investments in real property and long-term leases.
While revenues would go down, the number of alcohol outlets would rise with privatization, as would alcohol advertising and ultimately consumption, according to Carr’s letter.
He reminded lawmakers that their own Program Evaluation Division had studied privatization just two years ago and had not recommended it. In fact, that report found that “states may not convert from a control system to a license system because reduction in state revenues is likely.”
Perhaps one of the strongest arguments made in the letter from the N.C. Association of ABC Boards was the simple fact that with the current system, “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.”
“Those two statistics alone should have lawmakers taking notice,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “Before anyone begins a push to sell ABC, our leaders must take stock of what we have. And a system that generates high revenues while keeping consumption low is one that best benefits the citizens of North Carolina.”
In addition to the N.C. Association of ABC Boards and the Christian Action League, other organizations who have already stated their opposition to privatization include the N.C. League of Municipalities, the N.C. Association of County Commissioners, and the N.C. Association of Chiefs of Police.
Always at the top of the list of liquor industry lobbyists, the issue of privatization of spirits sales gained momentum over the last two years during which local ABC boards have been criticized for paying managers high salaries and accepting alcohol industry perks. To increase ethics standards, tighten controls and hold local ABC boards more accountable, the Legislature passed House Bill 1717 last session.
Meanwhile, the governor has ordered a valuation of the ABC system by an outside consulting firm and expects a report in January.