Booze control
by The Anniston Star Editorial Board
Jan 22, 2013 | 1764 views |  0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Alabama's state-run liquor business will celebrate its 76th anniversary Feb. 2. If state Sen. Arthur Orr has his way, that business will be greatly curtailed by the 77th anniversary, with state-run liquor stores being replaced by private retailers. Photo: Bill Starling/Associated Press/The Birmingham News
Alabama's state-run liquor business will celebrate its 76th anniversary Feb. 2. If state Sen. Arthur Orr has his way, that business will be greatly curtailed by the 77th anniversary, with state-run liquor stores being replaced by private retailers. Photo: Bill Starling/Associated Press/The Birmingham News
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One simple question — Should Alabama be in the liquor business? — was asked repeatedly when Alabama took control of the sale of “spirits” in an effort to make prohibitionists happy, make distillers happy, make drinkers happy and make the state coffers go cha-ching.

The result was a long line of legislative acts and exemptions that created the bizarre arrangement of dry counties, wet towns, wet counties, shared taxes, state liquor stores, private liquor stores and state wholesaling that we have today.

Is it a good system? Depends who you ask.

According Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, the state would save $46 million if it would sell off its 169 state liquor stores — the ones with the big ABC (Alabama Beverage Control) sign above the door. He will introduce a bill in the upcoming legislative session that will require the state to do just that. As a result, the sale of liquor to the consumer would be put in private hands.

However, state liquor stores are successful, according to ABC administrator Mac Gipson, both as businesses and from the standpoint of enforcing state liquor laws.

So, who is right?

Before senators and representatives rush into this, there needs to be more than a difference of opinion from the two sides involved. Obviously, private enterprise is stifled when a state gets into a business. However, there seems to be a general agreement that under the current system the consumer benefits from lower prices — prices private liquor stores offset with convenience.

Orr’s bill would allow Alabama to continue as the wholesale agent and liquor stores would have to buy from the state. But what are the implications of this — financial, regulatory and otherwise?

Today, Alabama is one of only 18 states that maintain this sort of control over liquor sales. How does turning this over to privately owned and operated businesses work in the states where that is how it is done?

Orr may have a better way for the state to handle the sale of spirits, but he should have to make a clear case before the Legislature takes this step. This page recommends that the Legislature proceed with care and with eyes wide open.
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