News: Quick Takes

GOP lawmaker tells Asheville group he’s open to privatizing liquor sales

A Republican state senator told a group in Asheville last week he’s open to privatizing liquor sales in North Carolina.

The senator, Chuck Edwards, R-Henderson, spoke Friday, Feb. 1, to members of the Council of Independent Business Owners, in a meeting held at the University of North Carolina-Asheville, the Citizen-Times of Asheville reported.

“Lots of folks already are coming to me and talking about changes to North Carolina’s antiquated ABC laws to make things streamlined, both for folks who administer that and for business,” said Edwards told the group, the paper reported.

Edwards, who chairs the Senate’s Commerce and Insurance Board, told the paper he would only support the change if revenue lost by local governments could be replaced.

“I’m open to the idea if we can plan a way to keep municipalities whole,” Edwards said. “That would be an overriding requirement.”

Other lawmakers looking to rein in the powers of the N.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission have similar concerns, though momentum to privatize the archaic, Prohibition-era system is building.

Responding to a question on Twitter, Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, a strong proponent of reforming the system, said Jan. 29, “I expect to introduce a licensure bill to move the state out of the business of selling and distributing distilled spirits.”

Asheville gets $3 million, or nearly 2 percent of the city’s $180 million operating budget, from liquor sales, Asheville ABC General Manager Mark Combs told the paper.

“North Carolina’s system is unique in the United States,” Combs told the Citizen-Times. “(It’s) 44th in per capita consumption, seventh in per capita revenues.”

Is the state ABC, a government monopoly, about control or profit? Or both?

In its initial annual report, the ABC in January wrote: “The fiscal year 2018 marks the [ABC commission’s] third consecutive record setting year for 10-digit sales, where retail sales surged and sales to restaurants and other businesses with mixed beverage permits increased over the prior year. The billion-dollar ABC revenue resulted in an all-time high transfer of money into the General Fund for use by the N.C. General Assembly.”