The answer is simple, yes, it is time to privatize NC liquor sales. Getting there is not so simple. So to understand the ABC system in NC you must first realize pricing and licensing is done at the state level by a commission. They price the liquor and pay a vendor to maintain the warehouse. We’ve already discussed the markup of 80.8% and part of that is to pay for the two warehouses. Here’s where it starts to get tricky, the local ABC Boards buy the spirits from the distributor and they are delivered by the warehouse. Once they are sold the taxes are then sent to the state. So the liquor in your local store is owned by the ABC Board and just waiting for it to be sold so the state can take their cut. If the system were privatized what would happen to all the hooch sitting in the stores and in the warehouse. I suppose the items in the warehouse could be sent back to the distributor since the local ABC stores have not yet purchased the bottles, but the ones in the stores will need to find a new home, presumably at cost. Now it gets even more sticky, there are 160 boards controlling 405 ABC stores in NC with 2,349 employees. How do we eliminate over 400 properties and tell a few thousand employees they are now out of a job? Granted some of the employees at higher levels are grossly overpaid so it would be easy to tell them to take a hike, but what about the guy or gal who is at a lower level coming to work on time and doing their job in a commendable fashion, how to do eliminate their local job? I stopped into the Gibsonville ABC store to look around and it is a really small store with hardly any selection, do you think the guy behind the counter is going to find another clerk job in a small town? What about all the property? We’re talking 405 parcels, some in strip malls, so now the strip mall owner needs a new tenant or the town has to sell land and a building. It is not a simple issue to just say we should privatize the system. In reality we SHOULD privatize the system, but we need to work through the issues which will come with privatization as well.
In the back of my mind I see it as the boards are given the option to continue operations or send the liquor back to the distributor. The distributor then operates as a true distributor and invoices the stores. The billing remains the same as before with liquor taxes being distributed by the stores and payment to the distributor before tax. I’m actually fine with NC setting pricing through a commission, but I’m also fine with that going. There are more layers to the onion, currently stores are only available where they have been voted in and then locations are chosen by a set of criteria. I would like to see that convention removed, but have no problem with stores not being allowed where the voters have not decided they want it as part of their community. I’ve still not fully visualized how to solve the real estate issue and the unemployment issues, but someone might have a good idea on how to accomplish that task. There is a grassroots movement underway to work on privatization, you may want to drop them a note if you are interested in helping with the efforts.