It’s a typical weekend scene for any of-age college student, like twenty-two-year-old Danielle Lewald who checks out each brand of booze before leaving with a brown-bagged bottle. But the Elon senior has no idea what politics lie behind the shelves of liquor.
North Carolina is one of eighteen states in the country that controls its liquor sales.
But the state may be missing out on a big budget boost from booze. And now the state is making its first big steps towards change in the alcohol business.
Alcohol Beverage Control stores, or A-B-Cs, are run under the same system put in place right after the Prohibition era. A report from the state General Assembly says it may just be time for an update and that could mean a hand off from government control to private ownership.
Haywood Simpson has been chairman of the local a-b-c board for the last decade. He controls Alamance County’s four stores and insists the current state-run system can work.
“The system is fine if we clean up the ones who don’t know how to operate one and give them some guidance,” Simpson said.
Scandals in Mecklenburg and New Hanover counties have the state questioning board member ethics. Four boards across the state actually lost money selling liquor back in 2007. And putting the liquor industry into private hands could fix these problems.
According to the state, ABC stores generate almost $700 million in revenue each year. If the stores were sold to private owners, the government could make even more money. Now, they’re just trying to figure out if that sale is worth it.
“I’m not sure what my recommendation will be.” Governor Bev Perdue told Phoenix14 News in an exclusive interview.
Governor Perdue wrote to state senators with an entire section on privatization. In it, she called for a valuation firm to assess how much the stores are actually worth and whether privatizing the alcohol business is the right decision for her government and consumers.
“I promise to hold local committees unharmed from the loss of the revenue,” Perdue said.
For Haywood, it’s as simple as A… B… C.
“You’re going to lose the C in ABC which is control,” Haywood said, “and I don’t think that’s the way to go at it.”
According to Governor Perdue’s letter, North Carolina will remain a control state in some capacity. Full privatization with licensing is the one extreme. The other is state control which means ownership could be shifted from local boards to the state government. And there are many partial privatization options in between. The amount of control will probably depend a lot on what the Valuation Research Corporation finds out about the value of ABC stores, and there has been no word as to when those investigations could end.
Check out the “Privatize NC Liquor Stores” Facebook page.
- Dannika Lewis