What's State Doing In Booze Business?
North Carolina and its counties and localities need to get out of the liquor business.
The need for such a reform has been naggingly apparent for years. But recent developments have lent it a new obviousness and urgency.
The state's system of ABC stores, in which often overpaid state employees sell privately manufactured bottles of alcoholic spirits to private customers alongside privately operated stores selling everything else, no longer makes any sense, if it ever did.
Only five other states in the union have systems resembling ours, which makes a person who wants to buy a bottle of bourbon or vodka feel like a heroin addict going in for his state-administered dose of methadone.
Outdated and Inefficient
The whole misbegotten procedure has its origins in obsessive Bible Belt attitudes toward alcohol that seem quaint at best and hypocritical at worst.
We in the Old North State are too hung up on Demon Rum to allow it to be sold through free enterprise the way virtually all other products are - including wine and beer. But we can't quite bring ourselves to attempt banning it outright and forfeiting the profits that its sale brings into official coffers.
Even if we put such philosophical arguments aside, there are still plenty of practical reasons to privatize the ABC system, as evidenced by disturbing recent controversies.
In Wilmington, the entire New Hanover County ABC board resigned amid revelations that the local ABC supervisor made $244,760 last year. In Mecklenburg County, it was learned that a liquor supplier had treated local ABC officials to a $12,000 party in November. In all, the 32 ABC representatives attending the lavish and ethically questionable soiree enjoyed 71 mixed drinks, 11 beers and 14 bottles of wine.
Even before all that hit the fan, a legislative study group had concluded that the state's system for controlling and selling liquor had become outdated and inefficient, with unclear and uneven lines of authority and obvious potential for conflict of interest and corruption.
Bolder Response Needed
Auction the ABC stores off to the highest bidder or bidders, we say, producing a much-needed slug of capital estimated at $700 million.
Let the stores be taken over and run by private operators, who would no doubt do it more efficiently than do the bureaucrats and civil servants who now run them. Clamp tight controls on the stores' operation - the same kind that now regulate wine and beer sales. And tax the heck out of the proceeds to help make up for - or more than make up for - the loss of revenue.
Pat McCrory, who was Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue's opponent in the 2008 election campaign, long ago publicly came out in favor of "transferring the sale of liquor to the private sector."
He more recently criticized the governor for what he considered a puny response to the recent scandals, which involved banning gifts to the 163 local ABC boards across the state and installing a new alcohol chief at the state level. He would take a more radical approach, selling off the whole shebang.
"We can use this money to fund road construction fairly across North Carolina," McCrory said. "These new road projects will instantly create jobs and get commuters to their place of employment more efficiently." He also recommended that some of the funds be used for the state's underfunded mental health care system, with special emphasis on alcoholism treatment.
Works for us.
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