State voters will decide on privatization of liquor stores

Published on Wed, Oct 19, 2011 by Jeremy Schwartz

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Election season is approaching once again, and once again Washington state voters will decide whether or not the state’s liquor stores will be privatized.

Initiative 1183, set to appear on the November 8 ballot, would close state-run liquor stores and license private companies to sell and distribute hard liquor. Currently, the Washington State Liquor Control Board operates state liquor stores and sets prices, while private companies can only sell and distribute wine and beer.

I-1183, if passed, would order the liquor control board to close and sell state liquor stores. Private companies would be able to apply for retail liquor licenses if the proposed private liquor store has more than 10,000 square feet of enclosed retail space. The 10,000-square-foot requirement would not apply to companies seeking liquor distribution licenses if they plan to move into a former state liquor store.

While fiscal impacts of I-1183 for the state are difficult to predict since private companies will determine liquor prices, the state estimates total state general fund revenue will increase from $216 million to $253 million over a six-year period, mostly from liquor distribution license fees. The state is also expected to recover $28.4 million from the sale of the state liquor distribution center.

Proponents of I-1183 say the initiative will add much needed revenue to the state’s coffers and lead to more competitive liquor prices. Opponents say the initiative will add thousands of new liquor stores to Washington’s communities and harm public safety.

Just as they did for last year's duel liquor-privatizing initiatives, I-100 and I-1105, large organizations and corporations are investing millions of dollars in both the pro and con sides of the I-1183 debate. Issaquah-based Costco Wholesale Corporation has invested about $9.4 million, as of October 18, into the Yes on I-1183 Coalition while Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America, Inc., has poured approximately $5.6 million into Protect our Communities, the anti-liquor-privatization group.

Last year, Washington voters said no to liquor privatization, rejecting I-110 with 53.4 percent of the vote and I-1105 with 65 percent of the vote.