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Alabama state senator seeking to privatize state liquor sales

State Senator Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) is once again trying to shake up the state’s liquor retail sales.

According to WHNT, Orr is drafting a bill to file in the legislature’s upcoming regular session that would phase out Alabama’s 170 state-run 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 told the television network. “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.”

Orr, the chair of the Senate’s committee on the Education Trust Fund and a member of the committee on the general fund, recognizes that the state gets a significant amount of revenue from alcohol-related taxes and wants to keep those in place.

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

The state senator 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,” Orr advised.

He has drafted similar bills like this before, but they have not made it to the floor during a legislative session for a vote. However, Orr said things could be different this year.

“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.”

The general concept of privatization for the state’s retail liquor business is one that would be good for the state’s budget and the consumer, Orr emphasized.

“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 said.

The Alabama legislature’s regular session kicks off on March 5.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn