Opinion

Approve I-1183 to privatize state liquor sales | Editorial

By far the most controversial measure on the 2011 election ballot is Initiative 1183, the so-called liquor privatization initiative. This measure, if approved, would close state liquor stores and allow private retail stores to sell and distribute hard liquor. As written, the initiative will set license fees based on sales and regulate licenses. It will also change regulation of wine distribution.

The Mirror recommends voting yes on I-1183.

The crux of I-1183 is: Can private industry distribute liquor more efficiently and with better service than the state? Wholesale giant Costco is sinking millions of dollars into this initiative, which will get the state out of the liquor business. State government is not exactly known for efficiency. This measure will free up the state to focus on more essential government functions such as collecting fees and enforcing the law.

The question of enforcement needs to be separate from distribution. Will Costco and other retailers make tons of money? Yes. Will prices go down? Certainly. Will the citizens of Washington and Federal Way benefit financially from these changes? Guaranteed.

The private market will determine liquor costs and markups. However, total revenues are estimated to increase between $186 million and $227 million over a six-year period, if I-1183 passes.

According to the state liquor control board, Federal Way receives a share of about $1.12 million from liquor revenues. The state’s Office of Financial Management estimates that Federal Way could receive an additional $3 million to $3.7 million in liquor revenue distributions, if I-1183 passes. According to the Washington Research Council, that extra money for Federal Way could total as high as $4.6 million (note: this analysis was partially funded by a contract with Costco, which asked for an independent analysis of the initiative’s fiscal impact.)

Opponents say I-1183 will lead to increased consumption by underage citizens. However, with the fines and consequences associated with underage liquor sales, retailers have good incentive to be vigilant. The “no campaign” for I-1183, which is funded by out-of-state distributors, offers scare tactics but no worthy statistics to substantiate these claims. Contrary to the opposition’s claims, this initiative will also strengthen enforcement of road safety.

Also contrary to opponents’ claims, liquor will not be sold at hundreds of mini-marts and gas stations. Liquor sales in urban areas will be limited to large stores that already have strong programs to prevent shoplifting and sales to minors. The stores will have more prevention incentive with the increased fines. In less populated areas, private liquor stores will likely be similar to private stores that sell now as contract stores. To put it mildly, the opponents’ arguments are full of half-truths or outright misleading statements on almost all aspects of the initiative.

With I-1183, local communities will have input before a liquor license can be issued to a retailer, with many requirements set by the state liquor control board.

If there is anything to object, it’s the attempts by deep-pocketed corporations like Costco to tap the initiative system for financial gain. Initiatives were meant to serve as a tool that gave citizens a stronger voice in government.

However, in this case, Washington is clinging to a business model inspired by attitudes dating back to Prohibition. I-1183 puts the liquor business into the free market’s hands where it belongs, and places the state government into the proper role of enforcing the liquor laws.

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Contact The Mirror's editorial board: editorialboard@fedwaymirror.com

 

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