Rep. Ray Russell

Ray Russell

RALEIGH — Legislative changes that sought to privatize liquor sales in North Carolina won’t happen in 2019, according to Rep. Ray Russell (D-Boone).

The bill, House Bill 971, was discussed in a committee on July 23, but the item was for discussion only, led by Rep. Chuck McGrady, a Hendersonville Republican who is leading the push.

“The bill’s primary sponsor, McGrady, unequivocally stated during the committee meeting that a privatization bill will not pass this year and ‘probably not next year,’” Russell stated on July 26. “McGrady is a widely respected legislator; we can trust him on that point.”

Russell noted that the bill came about after the N.C. General Assembly requested a study of Alcoholic Beverage Control laws be conducted by the N.C. Program Evaluation Division.

“The study’s recommendations included limited changes to modernize ABC laws in the state,” Russell stated. “The bill in its current form goes further, however.”

North Carolina is a “control state,” where all liquor sales are controlled by the North Carolina ABC board, with each county either having one unified ABC board or municipal boards. In Watauga County, Boone and Blowing Rock each have their own ABC board. The boards are responsible for dividing revenue from liquor sales.

The Boone ABC board stated in a March resolution in support of the current system that the town received allocations of $530,877 in the 2018 fiscal year from local ABC revenues. According to the town of Blowing Rock, $6 million in revenue has been brought in over the last 15 years. Blowing Rock ABC Board member Susie Greene previously said both stores are often in the top 20 in the state in terms of revenue and sometimes the top 10.

Those allocated revenues, by law, go to local alcohol education, local law enforcement rehabilitation efforts and to local municipalities.

Russell stated that HB971 would close state-run ABC stores and dissolve local ABC boards in favor of private business licensures and a new process for appropriating tax revenue. McGrady said the N.C. Program Evaluation Division report found that many ABC boards “oversee inefficient operations that result in little or no money left over after expenses are paid.”

“Although HB971 would maintain the ABC Commission’s role in permitting and enforcement, it leaves distribution and retail sales to the private sector,” McGrady said in a statement.

Russell said he conveyed the worries of the ABC boards of Boone and Blowing Rock, both of which pressed him to fight privatization.

In a statement, McGrady called HB971 a “sensible path forward,” calling the state ABC sales system an “inefficient state monopoly” that hasn’t changed much since the state repealed prohibition in 1937.

Russell noted that McGrady said there would be an extensive public comment period on the issue before any action is taken in the future.

McGrady, a representative since 2010, announced in May he won’t seek re-election in 2020.

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