Archived Story

Bill calls for end of state ABC stores

Published 11:24am Saturday, February 2, 2013

By David Goodwin, Outlook Staff Writer

Should the sale of alcohol be a concern of state government? That’s the question state Sen. Arthur Orr would like answered in the next session, as he works to trim expenses out of the general fund budget.

Orr (R-Decatur) said he’ll present a bill in the regular session that would privatize the state’s 231 liquor-peddling ABC Stores, putting licenses to fill that role to a bid process.

“It’s an option,” Orr said.

The question, he said is “should the state be in the retail alcohol sales business in the 21st century?”

“Is that truly a state function?” he asked. “Enforcement obviously is. Taxation is. But there are hundreds of private retailers in the marketplace. Why is the state competing with them?”

Orr said the key is to work out a system where the enforcement and taxation functions are accomplished without interruption, but the overhead of staffing the hundreds of individual stores is shifted to the private sector.

Orr said it’s hard to pin down a specific cost-savings, but the state fiscal office study found a potential savings of around $45 million.

Sen. Tom Whatley, (R-Auburn) said he wanted to learn more about the proposed bill.

“Any time we can save the taxpayers of Alabama money and continue to grow the economy, that is what we want to do,” Whatley said.

There have been concerns in past years that privatizing the stores would lead to an increase of underage drinking. Orr said he’s still discussing the specific language to target such concerns, admitting the move might require the ABC Board to “ratchet it up” to be sure underage drinkers can’t take advantage of the privatized system.

As for the 600-plus employees who staff the retail liquor outlets, Orr said they would get preference for other jobs in state government. There was also a chance, he said, of giving preference to private bidders who hire the former state-employed ABC clerks.

“We want to do all we can to mitigate the impact on state employees working at the retail level,” Orr said.

Orr said he’s still waiting for the precise savings projections and discussing concerns with his colleagues.

“We’re very close to having a draft finalized,” Orr said. “We need to make sure the dollars are significant enough to make it attractive for the general fund, and be sure we’ve addressed all the concerns so there aren’t any unintended consequences.”

The 2013 regular session begins Feb. 5.

Goodwin is the political editor for The Wetumpka Herald.