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While most government buildings were closed Monday for Columbus Day, Alabama's ABC liquor stores remained open across the state.

State Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) has been fighting to get the state out of retail alcohol sales, but he said he'd faced stiff opposition from the landlords who lease their properties to the ABC board.

"That's one of the big groups that pushed back on privatization every time I try to get us out of the retail sales of liquor. It's the landlords," Orr said Monday on the Midday Mobile radio show with Sean Sullivan.

As 1819 News previously reported, the ABC Board of Alabama leases more space than any other state agency, according to the Examiners of Public Accounts.

"It's those that are getting income from all those nice places around the state ...They don't want to lose the sweetheart deals that they get in these leases," Orr said.

To illustrate his point, Orr shared a personal story that happened shortly after he was elected in 2006. He said he was contacted by someone with the ABC board asking if he would be interested in leasing a property he owned for a liquor store. He declined the offer but gave the board names of three local realtors, one of whom ended up leasing a site they personally owned "because it's such a good deal."

"It's something people ought to be upset about," he said. "[A]ssuming I'm privileged enough to be reelected, I'm going to keep fighting the fight to see if we can't get the state out of competing with private businesses around the state in the sale of liquor."

Without having to pay for labor and leasing fees, Orr estimated it would save taxpayers between $7 million to $15 million by privatizing liquor sales.

"You got to think about the owner/operator mentality," he said. "If you got an owner/operator that's watching the store, watching the inventory and the merchandise, etc., you're certainly going to have a better run operation."

Orr said some people argue going private would deprive certain worthy causes, such as mental health, of much-needed tax revenue funds, but that doesn't have to be the case.

"If you keep the tax structure and the markup the same, that's a red herring," he said.

Aside from landlords and the state employee association, Orr said the "Christian right" has also opposed privatizing liquor sales, thinking it may increase teen drinking.

"There's no study to corroborate that, but that's what they say."

To connect with the author of this story, or to comment, email daniel.taylor@1819news.com.

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