Who should run WA’s booze biz?

Sep 14, 2010, 2:56 AM | Updated: Mar 28, 2011, 3:46 pm

Washington State has been in the liquor business since 1932 when voters repealed prohibition laws that controlled the manufacturing, transportation and sale of alcohol. 78 years later, voters are asked to pull the plug on the state liquor monopoly through two November ballot initiatives.

LiquorInitiatives 1100 and 1105 both end the Washington’s sale of liquor – vodka, rum, whiskey and other hard stuff – in state-run stores which have limited days and hours of operation.

Ashley Bach, with the 1100 campaign, says getting rid of state liquor stores would benefit consumers by giving them more convenient locations to buy alcohol at better prices. 32 other states already do this.

“In all the major alcohol statistics like alcohol consumption, underage drinking, DUI arrests, these states are doing the same and in many times better than the 18 states that still have state-run liquor stores,” says Bach.

Initiative 1100 is the measure Costco is behind. If passed, the alcohol they’d sell would be cheaper. A bottle of Absolut Vodka costs almost $43 in a state liquor store. Costco sells the same bottle in one of its California stores for about $23.

Initiative 1105 also kicks the state out of the liquor business, but retailers would still have to buy alcohol through distributors. This initiative requires the Washington State Liquor Control Board to continue strong regulation and enforcement actions.

One group is fighting both initiatives – a coalition of public safety agencies, calling itself Protect Our Communities. Those in the beer and wine industry are also against it, and are the primary financial supporters of the campaign against the liquor initiatives.

Snohomish County Sheriff John Lovick, has been in law enforcement for 35 years. He worries that any gas station, mini-mart, and neighborhood store will be able to purchase a $1,000 license and start selling hard alcohol.

The compliance rate for checking IDs with state liquor stores is 94 percent and about 75 percent for private retailers. “I suspect that rate could drop below 50 percent if the Initiatives pass,” says Lovick.

One of the biggest concerns for firefighters is the loss of tax revenue for cities if voters approve of 1100 and 1105.

“There’s a system in place now that allows well over $300 million dollars to return to local governments through liquor profits and the liquor tax,” says Bud Sizemore with the Washington State Council of Firefighters.

Ashley Bach doesn’t doubt the police and firefighters’ concerns, but he says they’re just a “front” for the people who are really pouring money into the anti-liquor privitization efforts.

“They’re really trying to present themselves as this humble coalition of groups that are opposing 1100 and 1105, but almost their entire campaign is funded by the beer and wine industry,” says Bach. He says they should “at least be up front and honest about who’s paying for it.”

Let’s look at the money flowing in these initiative campaigns, with links to the latest Washington State Public Disclosure Commission reports:

Initiative 1100 has raised almost $1.8 million. It’s biggest contributors are Costco, Wal-Mart and Safeway.

Initiative 1105 reported $2.4 million. The contributions to this campaign are almost exclusively from a Los Angeles spirit and wine distributor called Young’s Market, and Odom Corporation, a Bellevue-based beverage distributor.

That money added together is still less than the amount opponents of both Initiatives have contributed. So far Protect Our Communities has raised almost $4.9 million to defeat the campaigns to privatize liquor in Washington. The largest contributors are the National Association of Beer Wholesalers, based in Alexandria, Virginia and the Beer Institute lobbyists based in D.C.

If both initiatives pass, it’ll be up to the courts or the legislature to work out the differences before any change in liquor sales would take effect in Washington State.

(AP file photo)

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Who should run WA’s booze biz?