Every year for the past 13 years, lawmakers in Olympia made a choice. They could pass a bill before them to allow grocery stores to sell hard liquor alongside beer and wine, or they could keep the system we have. The current system looks like this: Liquor is sold at a small handful of state-run stores—stores that look like an homage to East Germany—that aren't open at the time of day when an adult might run out of vodka.
Lawmakers kept that idiotic system.
Why? The short story is that unions representing the employees in those 316 liquor stores intimidated lawmakers into maintaining an inefficient status quo. So since the end of Prohibition, our liquor outlets have been difficult to get to and frequently run out of products, inconveniencing bar and restaurant owners and underscoring how mindfuckingly stupid it is for the state to hold a monopoly over one industry.
Initiatives 1100 and 1105—which would both end the state's stranglehold on all retail and wholesale of liquor in slightly different ways—are the natural consequence of the legislature's fecklessness. But passing both initiatives would result in a tangled mess of laws that could be untied only in courts and, god forbid, with meddling from the legislature. So don't do that.
Instead vote only for I-1100.
I-1100 would allow private businesses to buy licenses at $1,000 a pop to sell liquor starting in June of next year. It would cut out the state's markup on booze (which accounts for half the cost of liquor) while keeping existing state taxes in place. Retailers could buy directly from liquor manufacturers instead of having to buy through a distributor, which is why Costco and Safeway are throwing money behind this initiative (they become wholesalers, essentially). Restaurants and nightlife folk have also endorsed I-1100, because it creates the most flexibility for their businesses.
But I-1105 is a shitty proposal. It gets rid of both the state's liquor markup and taxes, meaning that if Eyman's I-1053 passes—that's the one that effectively prevents the legislature from raising taxes—the state would lose all liquor-tax revenues for at least two years at a time when money is tight. That would devastate some good programs. It would also require a distributor middleman for all booze sales forever—essentially shifting the monopoly from the state to the hands of private distributors. So vote no on I-1105.
You're going to hear a lot of arguments about why you should vote no on both. Those arguments all come from the state Democratic machine that was too lazy to fix the broken liquor system for the past 13 years and the beer industry bankrolling its opposition campaign. Argument 1: This will cost the state money because we forgo the markup on liquor. That's true, but the cost to the state budget is only about $15—$17 million a year (a token sum compared to the billion-dollar deficits we're facing). And two years after we pass this, the legislature can reinstate some of that markup in the form of a tax increase—meaning the state can get that money back and more—so the revenue loss is minimal and temporary. Argument 2: Minors will be able to buy hard liquor. There may be more noncompliance at the convenience stores, true. But let's compare Washington to another state that has privatized liquor. California has an underage-drinking rate of 26.3 percent of teenagers, far below Washington's 31.3 percent rate, according to the federal government's Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. California's binge-drinking rates are also much lower. And with our state out of the liquor-selling business, the liquor control board can focus on what it's good at: enforcement.
If you want to see what the anti-liquor initiative campaign is really all about, follow the money.
The opposition campaign, Protect Our Communities, has raised over $8.2 million to fight the initiatives. Most of that dough comes from the National Beer Wholesalers Association and the Beer Institute, a trade association of major brewers (the chairman of the Beer Institute board is also the president of Anheuser-Busch), which are in this because they don't want beer to compete with liquor on grocery-store shelves. Their official arguments are bullshit. They oppose these initiatives because they want to protect the profits of beer megacorporations.
Anyone who tells you that the legislature will pass a better law on its own or that a party who doesn't have a financial stake in privatizing liquor will run a better initiative next year is lying to you. The legislature will never act, and someone's bound to turn a profit when the state gets out of a business it sucks at running and never should have been in to begin with. This is our best chance to shed a crappy system. There's plenty of opportunity to fine-tune the improved system in the next few years. Vote yes on I-1100 and no on I-1105.
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