Those who control the current government-run Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) system are among the most potent lobbying forces in North Carolina. Over the past dozen years or so, I have seen them turn back numerous efforts to consider privatizing ABC stores.

Now, the ABC clique – comprising local government officials and those who serve on local ABC boards – is flexing its political muscle against the idea of even studying the privatization issue. Sen. Howard Lee (D-Orange) sponsored a bill last year to create a study commission on ABC privatization, but judging by some of the most extreme comments you’d think Lee had proposed to simultaneously 1) reinstate prohibition and 2) cater to winos and gangsters.

Several county commissions, prompted by their local ABC bureaucrats, have passed resolutions against privatization in the past couple of months. In Nash County, commissioners passed its resolution by citing the argument that privatization would eliminate a source of revenue worth $191,125 a year. They also argued, however, that privatization would increase the number of places people could purchase hard liquor. OK, if purchases go up, revenue goes up, right? Or am I missing something?

Collectively, cities and counties collect more than $31 million a year from ABC stores. But if Lee is right, selling the state’s 400 stores could generate many more times that amount in one-time proceeds plus hundreds of millions in additional taxes, most of which would flow to local governments. It would take money years for the current system to pay out that much; besides, if opponents are correct that the number of stores selling liquor would multiply 10-fold, thus resulting in many more sales, annual tax collections would grow at a healthy rate.

About the fact that 20 ABC boards have approached their local governments for anti-privatization resolutions, Lee was blunt in a recent Fayetteville Observer Times story: “It’s irresponsible for any local official to oppose something in concept before work can be done to lay out what the plan might be.”

That pretty much sums it up.