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ABC stores could be all dried up if proposal passes

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MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) -

The state legislature may consider a proposal to eliminate the state's 172 Alabama Beverage Control Board stores across the state.

Sen. Arthur Orr, (R – Decatur), who chairs the Senate General Fund Budget Committee said closing the stores could save the state between $45 and $46 million annually.

"The fundamental issue we have to answer, is does the state belong in the retail liquor business in the 21st century" Sen. Orr asked during an interview Wednesday. "Should we be selling alcohol out there competing with the private sector but is this really a function of state government?"

Alabama is one of 18 states across the country that has state government control its beverage industry.

"We've done it for the past 75 years" said Mac Gipson, the Administrator of the ABC Board. "We've honed it to an art and probably one of the most efficient agencies in the state of Alabama. You have to be, we're in business. We operate on our own profit we don't get a penny worth of tax money to operate on."

Gipson says the ABC Beverage stores lead to more than $300 million dollars in tax revenue for the state, and an overall $1.5 billion economic impact.

The stores also employ more than 600 people.

"There are only two outcomes to privatizing the retail stores: that is the amount of money going to the government will have to decrease or the bottle price will have to increase" Gipson said.

Sen. Orr said though he hasn't prefiled the bill, the framework is in place. He says he is exploring the possibility of putting out a competitive bid process for private businesses to apply for licenses to sell liquor.

"Now we don't want to have a liquor store on every corner, nonetheless to replace the removal of the ABC retail locations" Sen. Orr said. "We would certainly anticipate that the private sector would come in and replace some of those locations."

Gipson said he would be concerned about smaller, locally owned stores going out of business, because they wouldn't have the financial clout of large chains.

"The big box stores would take over" Gipson said. "Say goodbye to those mom and pop shops."

The distribution model would remain the same according to Sen. Orr.

All bottles of liquor are distributed through a central location in Montgomery.

"We wouldn't change that" he said.

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