Kay Ivey names Curtis Stewart new ABC Administrator

Today, Gov. Kay Ivey announced she is naming Curtis Stewart the new ABC Administrator for her second term. Current Administrator Mac Gipson, 87, has served in this capacity for 12 years and announced his retirement Thursday. This announcement marks the first cabinet appointment for Ivey’s second term. Stewart’s appointment is effective January 1, 2023. Stewart comes to the helm of ABC from the Alabama Department of Revenue, where he most recently served as deputy commissioner for the last ten years. He also served as director of the Department of Revenue’s Tax Policy and Research Division. “As we continue working hard for the people of Alabama, I am proud to assemble the best team, and that includes Curtis Stewart. I am truly grateful to Mac for his years of service to Alabama, and I am confident that Curtis is the natural fit to take the lead at ABC,” Ivey said in a press release. “No doubt, there will be a lot to accomplish in my next term, and I certainly feel good that we have Curtis to help continue navigating what’s to come at ABC. His depth of knowledge and heart for public service will be of true benefit to the folks across our state.” Stewart is a Greenville native and received his Bachelor of Science degree from the Commerce School of Washington and Lee University. He began his career with the Atlanta office of Peat, Marwick, Mitchell, and Co., Certified Public Accountants (now KPMG). He has also worked as a sole practitioner in public accounting in the Atlanta, Georgia, area. Stewart thanked Ivey for the opportunity. “I am honored for Governor Ivey to give me this opportunity to serve in her administration and to continue my service to the great state of Alabama,” Stewart said. “I am excited about getting to know the team members of the ABC and working together with them to provide products to the citizens of Alabama, along with providing funds used for governmental services throughout the state.”

Kay Ivey calls for removal of all Russian-sourced liquor from all ABC stores

liquor store alcohol

As Russia continues its violent attack on Ukraine, Gov. Kay Ivey has asked for the immediate removal of Russian liquor from ABC Stores throughout the state. In a letter to ABC administrator Mac Gipson, Ivey stated, “As a show of solidarity with the people of Ukraine, I am asking you, as ABC Board Administrator, to immediately remove all Russian-sourced liquor products from the shelves of ABC stores throughout the State of Alabama. Please note that this request applies only to liquor products actually sourced in Russia and does not extend to Russian-themed liquor products that are sourced in some other nation. The removal should be in effect until further notice.” “This is a small, but meaningful way to take action and show the people of Ukraine we support them while also firmly stating our opposition to the unnecessary humanitarian crisis Russia has inexcusably created. I encourage all Alabama citizens and businesses to explore ways they can show support for Ukraine and discourage Russia for continuing this unreasonable siege on a neighboring country,” Ivey stated. The letter follows: “I know that you watched in dismay last week—with me, with the people of Alabama, and indeed with the entire Nation—as Russian President Vladimir Putin initiated an unprovoked and dangerous war against Ukraine, our democratic ally.  As a show of solidarity with the people of Ukraine, I am asking you, as ABC Board Administrator, to immediately remove all Russian-sourced liquor products from the shelves of ABC stores throughout the State of Alabama. Please note that this request applies only to liquor products actually sourced in Russia and does not extend to Russian–themed liquor products that are sourced in some other nation. The removal should be in effect until further notice.  Russia’s invasion of Ukraine puts millions of innocent lives at risk and represents an all-out assault on democracy. It is my hope that, by taking this action, the State of Alabama may contribute to Russia’s justly deserved and increasing economic isolation. Through this action, we strive to express our solidarity with the people of Ukraine as they oppose this senseless attack not just on their homeland but also on the democratic principles that we, too, hold so dear. 

Steve Flowers: Privatization of ABC stores fails again

Steve Flowers

Alcohol was on the minds of many Alabama lawmakers this year as the legislature considered an abnormally high number of alcohol-related bills. Several of the bills passed. Most notable was legislation that made it possible for Alabama businesses to deliver beer, wine, and liquor to customers’ homes, and separate legislation that allows state residents to order wine directly from wineries, even if those producers are out of state. One piece of legislation that did not pass was Senator Arthur Orr’s perennial bill to privatize ABC liquor stores.  There are a number of reasons for Alabamians to be thankful this legislation did not pass. First and foremost, the State’s General Fund Budget will benefit from the failure of this legislation. The proposed legislation would have resulted in higher prices, lost tax dollars, lost jobs, and less enforcement of alcohol laws. For example, last year alone, the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board contributed $314 million to the State General Fund and state agencies, according to information provided by the ABC Board. This is from taxes and the markup on liquor. If you privatize liquor sales and close the ABC stores, much of this revenue goes away, even after considering the taxes generated by private stores.  An analysis of the ABC Board shows a net loss of $95 million a year. Another reason to be thankful the legislature refused to privatize liquor sales is the fact that hundreds of state jobs were saved by the failure of this legislation. The ABC stores and the state warehouse are run by more than 875 state employees.  Most would have lost their jobs, their health insurance, and their retirement had the bill passed.  These employees go through hours of training to keep stores safe and prevent the sale of liquor to minors.  Dollars and cents aside, if you look at this from a health and safety standpoint, Alabama is better off with state-regulated ABC stores controlling liquor sales than private retailers. Speaking of private liquor stores, you can expect a big jump in their numbers.  If you consider all the grocery stores, convenience stores, and other retail chains, such as Walmart and Target, along with the additional package stores that will pop up if liquor sales are privatized, liquor outlets in the state could increase from around 850 currently to more than 2,100. While there would not literally be a liquor store on every corner, it sure might feel like it.  Furthermore, studies and common sense indicate that the more stores you have selling liquor, which will come with privatization, the more liquor you are going to sell.  More sales mean more consumption, and more consumption means more health and safety problems. Alcohol is not just another commodity, and buying it should not be as easy as buying milk and bread.  Data from the CDC says 95,000 people die annually due to excessive drinking.  No drug kills as many people each year as alcohol. The good news is that under our current alcohol control system, Alabama fares much better than most states when it comes to alcohol consumption.  As a state, we are among the lowest in liquor consumption and among the highest in revenue from liquor taxes.  Lastly, even if you look at privatization from a consumer’s standpoint, it does not benefit Alabamians financially to privatize liquor sales.  As anyone who has gone into an ABC store and a private package store knows, private store prices are much higher.  If you close the ABC stores, Alabamians are only left with the higher prices of private stores. While the legislation to privatize liquor sales was well-intentioned from a philosophical standpoint, we should be thankful our legislature looked at the bigger picture.  The state has little to gain but a lot to lose by closing ABC stores. The ABC Board is a valuable state agency, and the ABC stores provide a great benefit to our state in tax revenue, hundreds of state jobs, and lower prices for Alabamians.  I have known ABC Board Administrator Mac Gipson a long time.  I know he runs a tight ship and it would be a shame to wreck it, so let’s hope privatization of liquor sales is dead for good. See you next week. Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist.  His column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at:  www.steveflowers.us.  

Steve Flowers: Some legislative issues

Steve Flowers

The 2020 legislative regular session is wrapping up.  After this week’s two days of meeting days, only one final legislative day remains on May 17. There have been a myriad of high-profile measures addressed during this year’s session.  However, the budgets and how state dollars are spent are always the paramount issues on the minds of legislators, especially the budget chairmen. The elephant in the room, which is on the back of everyone’s mind, is the prison issue.  Alabama must-have new prisons.  The governor wants to and has moved unilaterally to privatize the new prisons.  Legislators are skeptical of the open-ended cost and believe the state should own the prisons and a bond issue should be floated to pay for the state’s new prisons. This skepticism by legislative leaders has resulted in a bill that is meandering through the legislature, which would create a joint legislative oversight committee to review any large expenditures. The bill would require any non-education state agency or state department to obtain approval from a newly formed oversight committee on obligation transparency for any General Fund expenditures over $10 million. As the COVID pandemic shutdown began last March, home delivery of groceries and all merchandise flourished.  Everything under the sun began to be delivered to people’s homes, except for alcohol in Alabama.  We have very strict laws regarding the sale of alcohol.  These laws are administered and upheld by the Alabama Alcohol and Beverage Control Board.  Well, there has been a hue and cry from a good many Alabamians who have desired that wine, beer, and liquor be delivered to their homes the same as other grocery items.  The legislature heard their concerns and adhered to their wishes.  They passed legislation allowing for home delivery of alcohol during this session, and Governor Kay Ivey signed the law. However, in a recent conversation with Alabama Beverage Control administrators, Mac Gipson and William Thigpen, they are of the belief that very few Alabamians will actually be able to afford this luxury.  The legislation calls for very stringent guidelines regarding the delivery process.  It will probably be cost-prohibitive for delivery companies to participate.  There will be costly prohibitions in order to adhere to the ABC’s guidelines.  Someone will have to be 21 or older at home to sign for the alcohol.  Delivery drivers will have to have perfect driving records that will have to be void of DUI’s for at least six years.  There will have to be proper refrigeration for certain beverages and numerous other precautions.  There can be no delivery to college campuses or their surrounding neighborhoods.  This legislation is not the panacea that at-home drinkers believe it will be.  Alabamians are also still prohibited from purchasing alcohol from out-of-state under any circumstance.  Those Alabama drinkers who delight in garnering select brands of bourbon, scotch, vodka, gin, and fine wines must still drive to some other states to get their preferred indulgence. The perennial legislation regarding the use of medical marijuana for medicinal purposes has been front and center this session.  It usually gets passed in the Senate.  It always gets bogged down in the House of Representatives.  It has become law in most states.  However, Alabama is a conservative state, and the Alabama House is a very conservative and deliberative body.  Senator Tim Melson, who is a staunch conservative Republican senator and a physician, is the sponsor.  He has seen first-hand how the use of medicinal marijuana has helped his patients.  A good many Alabamians, who have suffered debilitating pain from cancer and other illnesses, can and will attest to using this relief. Alabama now has an official state vegetable, the sweet potato.  The Alabama legislature made it official during the regular session.  Alabama has taken heart in creating official emblems and honors over the years.  We have an official state fruit, the blackberry.  The official tree fruit is the peach.  The official crustacean is the brown shrimp.  The official amphibian is the red hills salamander. All in all, it may not be a bad Session. See you next week. Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist.  His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers.  He served 16 years in the state legislature.  Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.  

Surging coronavirus cases leads to reauthorizing curbside alcohol sales

Alcohol

With coronavirus cases surging to nearly 400,000 cases and 4,100 deaths, the state of Alabama is enacting more measures to help slow the spread. The Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board has approved to amend an original statewide order to temporarily authorize emergency curbside alcohol sales. The board held an emergency meeting Monday to reinstate the order, and the measure passed unanimously, extending it until January 4. On March 24, as the coronavirus began to spread nationwide, the Alabama ABC Board passed an amendment to the emergency curbside sales authorization, reported Al.com.  The original authorization expired on September 15. The decision to not extend the order at that time came as Alabama started reopening restaurants and bars. According to an email in September to Al.com, Dean Argo, Government Relations Manager of the Alabama ABC Board stated, “At this time, there are no plans to extend that order.”  The amendment would allow on-premise licensees to again sell alcoholic beverages to go. Specifically, this would apply to selling sealed bottles. No more than one 375-milliliter bottle of spirits, two 750-milliliter bottles of wine, or 144 ounces of beer can be sold per customer, according to a CBS Report. “I think it’ll affect us pretty good. When they had it back in September, back when it started, it did pretty good,” stated restaurant owner Marco Perez. “A lot of customers like getting a margarita to go. It helped business a lot.” Perez owns Maya’s Restaurante Mexicano in Homewood. Jason Hutchins, general manager at Tuscaloosa restaurant Brick and Spoon is happy about the order. He told WBRC, “We saw a lot more folks stop by just to get drinks. We saw a huge spike in repeat orders at the tables when people were getting ready to go when they finished their meals. They said ‘We’ll have another mimosa to go.’”  “We are extremely sensitive to the plight of our licensees during the COVID-19 pandemic, and we will continue to make every attempt to help them remain open, financially viable, and safe,” stated ABC Board Administrator Mac Gipson. Governor Kay Ivey recently extended the Alabama Safer at Home order until January 22.    

State-run liquor stores an unnecessary hangover from times long past

It’s not often you go to a government website and find recipes for mixed drinks. However, go to the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board webpage the home screen you’ll find a link to drink recipes. The state will tell you how to make a “Purple Rain” (which includes rum, vodka, gin, tequila, and triple sec if you were curious), “Irish Eyes” or even a chocolate margarita. If that’s not enough, if you visit the state pricing sheet you’ll get nearly 20 pages more of drinks.  Why the push for strong beverages and spirits by our government? They’re in the alcohol business. Alabama is one of 17 states nationally that’s still a control state, but not to worry, they do so for your own good. From its website: “Following the era of Prohibition, each state individually decided how alcoholic beverages would be managed within its borders. The people of Alabama did not want alcoholic beverages marketed like soup and soft drinks. Recognizing the lethal potential of alcohol, Alabama citizens demanded its rigorous control. The ABC Board was legislatively created to fulfill this mandate.” Spotlighted on the homepage of the ABC board and paraphrased in their pricing sheet is an op-ed from ABC Administrator Mac Gipson that makes the case to continue the state program. He also argues against Senate Bill 115 , saying it would, “ultimately (lead) to higher prices, as well as increased consumption with all its associated social ills.” Aren’t you glad the state is here to save you from the “lethal potential of alcohol?” Could there be other interests beyond that residents of this great state need it to run liquor stores to keep them from becoming a heathen free-market system? Well, there’s all those jobs Gipson cites that would be lost. Only problem is that SB 115 by Sen. Arthur Orr addresses that. According to the committee report on the bill:   “This bill also requires the Board to fill any nonessential positions with displaced ABC employees of retail operations. The bill also requires displaced employees receive (1) a five percent bidding preference when submitting an individual bid or submitting a bid on behalf of a corporation, partnership, association, or other business organization, of which the displaced employee owns at least a 50 percent interest and (2) five additional points on a state examination for appointment to the classified service for a period of two years. In addition, displaced employees shall be given a 20 percent discount on retail license and permit fees for the first two years after issuance. The bill also allows a licensee to receive a 20 percent discount on license and permit fees for employing a displaced employee full-time, for 12 consecutive months or longer. The discount would be given for each complete year the displaced employee is employed full-time, for up to five years.” Looking for other reasons to continue this not-so conservative, not-so free-market program, there’s always that big government rarely likes to end a program and return services to the market where they belong. Then there’s this a strong lobby against change: Monday morning, AL.Com’s Cameron Smith published Meet the money behind the effort to keep Alabama in the liquor retail business. In it he links to a letter Bob Leavell, former Alcoholic Beverage Control Board (ABC) administrator under Governors Folsom and James, sent to the landlords of the states liquor stores.  Leavell pleads with them to contribute to a fund for lobbyists to fight Senate Bill 115, which would open up the market. In it he says, “If you thought this Bill was not going anywhere; that it would die or get killed like it always has, you need to think again!” Let’s hope he’s right!  The fact is the prohibition days are long behind us and so should be the days of state-run liquor stores. Photo Credit: AP Photo/Doug McSchooler