by: Jeff Smith Updated:
CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Republican candidate for governor Pat McCrory is backing off his assertion that government-run liquor stores are part of Raleigh's "culture of corruption" and that the state needs to privatize all liquor assets.
"It's not on one of my priorities at this point in time," McCrory said.
Two years ago, McCrory wrote an editorial in the News and Observer newspaper and put up a Facebook page calling state-run liquor sales a system of "cronyism."
He argued that "Perdue and the state legislature should get North Carolina out of the liquor business entirely, by transferring the sale of liquor to the private sector."
On Tuesday he said, "I still support privatization, but I have a broken government to fix."
"But as a Republican governor with a Republican legislature, you'd have the ability to make good headway in privatizing liquor sales," said Eyewitness News.
"I'm not sure I have the votes for that, on either side of the aisle, at this point in time," he responded.
North Carolina has some of the steepest liquor taxes in the nation. Alcoholic Beverage Control boards in each county control the sale of liquor.
Eighteen states sell spirits only in state-licensed stores, but North Carolina has the highest taxes in the entire Southeast.
The steep taxes force many customers across the border to South Carolina liquor stores like Frugal MacDoogal, where bottles are $4 to $10 cheaper.
"There's no way North Carolina can beat South Carolina prices on liquor," said customer Larry Wollenhaupt.
There are 23 ABC stores in Mecklenburg County.
"If privatized, given our population, conservative estimates would put the number of outlets rising into the hundreds," ABC spokeswoman Mary Ward said in a statement. "One way private business owners measure success is by retained profits. A private business owner would have no interest in supporting the community to the extent that the Mecklenburg County ABC Board does." (Click here to read the full statement.)
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Walter Dalton said that's why he supports a tightly-regulated system.
"I don't think opening it up to private businesses, to have a liquor store on every street corner, is a good thing for North Carolina," he said. "I do think that state control is a good thing and I think the people want that."
An independent firm concluded the state could rake in more than $300 million by privatizing licenses.
Dalton said it's not worth it; and McCrory said it's not a priority for his administration.