Liquor privatization measure appears headed to Wash. ballot



Posted on June 23, 2010 at 5:37 PM

Updated Wednesday, Jun 23 at 7:14 PM

OLYMPIA, Wash. - Signatures delivered to get state out of liquor business

An initiative to get Washington state out of the liquor business appears headed for the November ballot.

Supporters of Initiative 1100 today turned in more than 390,000 signatures. The state requires about 241,000 signatures to qualify for the ballot.

I-1100, backed by Costco, would not only get the state out of running liquor stores, it would eliminate price controls and allow volume discounts.

"It's time to bring Washington into the 21st century," said Glenn Avery, treasurer for Modernize Washington.

Since prohibition was lifted in the 1930s, retail liquor sales in Washington State have been limited to about 300 stores run or contracted by the government. According to the Liquor Control Board, Washington is one of about 19 states that in some way directly controls the sale and distribution of alcohol.

Initiative opponents say privatizing liquor would put about a thousand state employees out of work.  And while the state would save money shutting down stores, it would lose profit and markup from alcohol sales. Opponents say if retailers sold liquor at lower prices, tax revenues would be down as well.

"I-1100 makes no attempt whatsoever to replace that lost revenue," said Sandeep Kaushik, initiative opponent.

Opponents also believe consumption would rise. "There is a serious public safety concern here when you expand the sale of liquor," Kaushik said.

Supporters disagree, saying there's no connection between per capita consumption and whether a state has liquor controls.  And supporters say it's not a given that changing the liquor system would reduce revenue to the state.

"We think that's a false argument," said Avery.