Local

Change may be brewing amid ABC store review

The General Assembly has launched a deep examination of the state's alcoholic beverage control system that could lead to sweeping changes and has some conservative groups worried the state will eventually allow private liquor stores.

Lawmakers have tasked a new and little-known team of legislative staffers to spend months examining whether the ABC system works as efficiently as it should and whether changes, including adopting practices used in other states, are needed to make the system more effective.

The General Assembly's Program Evaluation Division, created last year, is visiting 30 of the 158 local ABC boards across the state, including Mecklenburg, during July and August. They're visiting stores and interviewing local board members.

“We're just taking a fresh look at it, seeing if there are some best practices other states have that might help here,” said John Turcotte, the division's director.

Turcotte expects to give lawmakers a full report at the end of the year, including options for new policies or changes in the system. The recommendations could be drafted into legislation after the General Assembly convenes in January.

Garry Hardin, general manager of Morganton's ABC store, said he's hopeful that the review will enlighten legislators as to how well the system is working.

“It keeps popping up,” Harding said. “Most of the time it's a lack of education of our system. A lot of times it's people in the General Assembly thinking that if they privatize, it'll be a windfall for the state. (The system) is working and generating tons of money for the state.”

Taxes on liquor sales last year put more than $250 million into state and local treasuries.

North Carolina is one of 18 states in which the government directly oversees liquor sales, but the only state in which local boards operate the stores. In the other states, liquor is sold by state stores or retailers who operate as government agents.

In North Carolina's fragmented system, two thirds of the local ABC boards oversee only one store. Brunswick County, for example, is home to 10 ABC boards, and nine of them each operate a single store. The system breeds inefficiency, duplication and waste, critics say.

Last year, state ABC Commission Chair Doug Fox proposed changes to consolidate the number of local boards. He wants the state commission to have more power to require mergers among small, neighboring ABC boards and to require consistent design and hours among stores.

So far, none of those proposals have been turned into legislation.

The state commission, composed of three members, runs a central liquor warehouse and sets statewide prices but doesn't operate stores. It can offer help to local boards, but can intervene only when there are major problems.

Turcotte said his staff will examine how the system works, why it was set up the way it is and what problems the system was designed to address.

The possibility of adopting practices from other states set off warning flares for Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the N.C. Christian Action League. He suggested the ultimate goal of the study was privatizing the stores in order to generate more sales and more tax money.

“This is not something that has just popped up this year. I've been listening to this for several years now,” Creech said. “The issue is not so much about efficiency as it is the possibility of additional revenues.”

Turcotte said that's not true.

“This is not a privatization plan,” he said, adding that there also is no effort to take away localities' power to determine whether liquor is sold in their community.

The division's mission is much broader, not only on that assignment, but on all of their projects.

The General Assembly committee that oversees the program evaluation division assigns its projects for the upcoming year. Sen. Dan Clodfelter, a Charlotte Democrat who co-chairs and helped create the committee, said the division operates like a research firm.

“Step back from the day-to-day legislative process and look at programs that have been around for a while,” Clodfelter said. “Are they still fulfilling their mission? Are they operating as effectively as we wanted when they started out?”

In the case of the ABC stores, legislators will find out in December.

The General Assembly has launched a deep examination of the state's alcoholic beverage control system that could lead to sweeping changes and has some conservative groups worried the state will eventually allow private liquor stores.

Lawmakers have tasked a new and little-known team of legislative staffers to spend months examining whether the ABC system works as efficiently as it should and whether changes, including adopting practices used in other states, are needed to make the system more effective.

The General Assembly's Program Evaluation Division, created last year, is visiting 30 of the 158 local ABC boards across the state, including Mecklenburg, during July and August. They're visiting stores and interviewing local board members.

“We're just taking a fresh look at it, seeing if there are some best practices other states have that might help here,” said John Turcotte, the division's director.

Turcotte expects to give lawmakers a full report at the end of the year, including options for new policies or changes in the system. The recommendations could be drafted into legislation after the General Assembly convenes in January.

Garry Hardin, general manager of Morganton's ABC store, said he's hopeful that the review will enlighten legislators as to how well the system is working.

“It keeps popping up,” Harding said. “Most of the time it's a lack of education of our system. A lot of times it's people in the General Assembly thinking that if they privatize, it'll be a windfall for the state. (The system) is working and generating tons of money for the state.”

Taxes on liquor sales last year put more than $250 million into state and local treasuries.

North Carolina is one of 18 states in which the government directly oversees liquor sales, but the only state in which local boards operate the stores. In the other states, liquor is sold by state stores or retailers who operate as government agents.

In North Carolina's fragmented system, two thirds of the local ABC boards oversee only one store. Brunswick County, for example, is home to 10 ABC boards, and nine of them each operate a single store. The system breeds inefficiency, duplication and waste, critics say.

Last year, state ABC Commission Chair Doug Fox proposed changes to consolidate the number of local boards. He wants the state commission to have more power to require mergers among small, neighboring ABC boards and to require consistent design and hours among stores.

So far, none of those proposals have been turned into legislation.

The state commission, composed of three members, runs a central liquor warehouse and sets statewide prices but doesn't operate stores. It can offer help to local boards, but can intervene only when there are major problems.

Turcotte said his staff will examine how the system works, why it was set up the way it is and what problems the system was designed to address.

The possibility of adopting practices from other states set off warning flares for Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the N.C. Christian Action League. He suggested the ultimate goal of the study was privatizing the stores in order to generate more sales and more tax money.

“This is not something that has just popped up this year. I've been listening to this for several years now,” Creech said. “The issue is not so much about efficiency as it is the possibility of additional revenues.”

Turcotte said that's not true.

“This is not a privatization plan,” he said, adding that there also is no effort to take away localities' power to determine whether liquor is sold in their community.

The division's mission is much broader, not only on that assignment, but on all of their projects.

The General Assembly committee that oversees the program evaluation division assigns its projects for the upcoming year. Sen. Dan Clodfelter, a Charlotte Democrat who co-chairs and helped create the committee, said the division operates like a research firm.

“Step back from the day-to-day legislative process and look at programs that have been around for a while,” Clodfelter said. “Are they still fulfilling their mission? Are they operating as effectively as we wanted when they started out?”

In the case of the ABC stores, legislators will find out in December.

  Comments