Leaders oppose privatizing Alabama liquor
The men who oversee the sale of millions of bottles of liquor in the state of Alabama told the more than 100 agents in Montgomery on Tuesday that they oppose turning the work of the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board over to private business.
The new administrator for the ABC Board, Mac Gipson, said he supported privatization of the liquor business in Alabama before taking the helm, but says the numbers do not work in the state's favor. He said that the ABC, through taxes and the sale of liquor, contributed more than $190 million to the state's cash-strapped General Fund last year. And the sales tax goes to education in the state.
"This is one of the few agencies that puts money back into the state," Gipson said.
Assistant Administrator William Thigpen, a former Democratic state legislator from Fayette, said there are 17 states like Alabama that are "controlled." In those states, he said, there are fewer incidents of driving under the influence and there are fewer alcohol-related accidents.
Thigpen also told the ABC agents he opposed privatization. He said the current arrangement is working.
"There's so much we do for the state of Alabama," Thigpen said.
Jeff Rogers, the chief of enforcement for the ABC, said the 137 agents in the state handle issues with alcohol, ephedrine, methamphetamines, and handle investigations and background checks on those who have ABC licenses. He said there is an average of an agent per county with more in the counties with larger populations.
Gipson said the agents also bust illegal stills and work on issues related to gambling.
Gipson, a former legislator from Prattville who lost in the 2010 Republican primary and was appointed by Gov. Robert Bentley to run the ABC, said some other states, including Virginia and North Carolina, have backed away from privatization after finding out what they believe would be financial and law enforcement consequences.
Gipson said the ABC Board does not have a lot of assets except for the vehicles and stock in stores. He said the state does not own the warehouse or the liquor in it.
Alabama marks up the liquor 30 percent from its cost and adds on 56 percent in various taxes, not including the sales tax, Gipson said. That markup pays to keep the agents and their cars on the road.
He said he has not personally talked to Bentley about privatization because the administration "has a lot of fish to fry." He said he has heard rumblings from the Legislature that the new Republican majority there wants to privatize in its quest to support business and shrink government.
But Gipson said he has looked at the numbers.
"They haven't run into an animal like this before," he said.
In their khaki pants and blue polo shirts with "ABC Agent" across the back of the neck, the agents in the ABC force gathered Tuesday in the auditorium of the state Capitol, where they heard from Gipson and Thigpen, received their update on the state's new ethics laws, and were told who received awards for their performance in the last year.
Rogers awarded Agent James Carney of Birmingham as the agent of the year. He said that is based on work product, appraisals and recommendations from supervisors, firearms scores, and physical conditioning. The winner is allowed to drive a new vehicle that has a specialized license tag.
Agent Jason Ward of Brewton received an award for meritorious actions. Rogers said Ward, while working, was informed that his apartment was on fire. Even though he lost everything in the fire, Ward and a sheriff's deputy pulled a disabled senior citizen from the fire.
District 2, which is headquartered in Anniston, was awarded as the district of the year. Lt. Mike Reese and Sgt. Stan Ray supervise the district. Rogers said the district operated short two agents who were serving in the military and that Reese spends much of his time with a program for youth that has shared information about methamphetamines and alcohol with more than 200,000 students.
The state has 11 districts and a central office in Montgomery.
-- posted by Sebastian Kitchen