Alabama lawmaker looks to privatize state alcohol retail sales

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DECATUR, Ala. - Alabama Senator Arthur Orr is again trying to shake up the state's alcohol retail sales. He's drafting a bill to file in the Alabama Legislature's upcoming session in March that would eventually do away with state-run ABC stores.

Orr (R-Decatur) is looking to phase out Alabama's 170 ABC stores over a period of several years by privatizing the retail function of the Alcoholic Beverage Control board.

"Why are we in the liquor business to start with?" Orr said. "We would wind up the liquor sales at the retail level. It would take time to do, but we wind it up and just let the private sector compete and sell liquor wherever they want to sell."

He added, "To me, it makes no sense why we are competing head-to-head with the private sector in this space in government. It's a legacy from the 1930's and prohibition. But most all other states are now out of the retail sales of liquor. It seems to me we ought to be able to get out."

However, Orr recognizes that the state gets lots of money from the taxes. He wants to keep those in place.

"If you leave the markup and the taxes the same, then let the market compete as they will," he said. "But you lose the overhead, you lose the labor costs, you lose the expenses with the leases. All that goes away."

Orr said he has been working with the Legislative Fiscal Office to crunch the numbers and research the cost savings.

"Their estimates on the savings to taxpayers are anywhere from $12 to $15 million a year," he stated.

Orr has drafted bills like this before, but they haven't made it to the floor during a legislative session for a vote. It is almost an annual effort, a work in progress, to find something that can earn true support. But he said things could be different this year, though.

"One thing we are doing differently this year is we are working with the ABC representatives on, 'Ok, we've had a bill in past years. What do we need to do differently that you would recommend? You're the experts. Give us your suggestions,'" he explained. "They've been responsive thus far."

Overall, Orr said he believes this is a more effective way to do business and in the end, privatization would be good for Alabama.

"I've been working on this for years and I think it's good policy for our state. And when I see the cost savings, it makes it more compelling for me," he noted.

Orr acknowledges that some have criticized past bills, fearing without the state-run ABC stores, the cost of liquor could soar. Orr also said the market could eliminate any worries and said any effect remains to be seen.

"You've got to do it right," he said.

The Alabama Governor's office and the Alabama ABC Board have not yet responded to WHNT News 19's request for comment on this issue.

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