Liquor Privatization Yays and Nays

Editorial boards weigh in on I-1100 and I-1105.

October 18, 2010

Underage drinking Some local editorial boards say privatization would be Superbad from a public safety perspective, others call that claim “bogus.”

Good morning, empowered voters. By now you should have received your ballots. Before we experience the collective brain melt brought on by the many labyrinthine initiatives lined up on that bad boy—can’t we just hire people to make laws for us? Oh wait…—let’s take a look at how local editorial boards are feeling about our duo of liquor privatization measures.

All of these pubs say they want state government out of liquor sales. It’s just some of them don’t think initiatives are the way to do that.

YES ON 1100

The Seattle Times likes Costco, and it also likes Costco’s initiative, I-1100. Its endorsement chronicles Costco’s fight against state booze, detailing how the chain even took the issue to a San Francisco federal appeals court a few years back. The court ruled that Washington’s liquor system is "anti-consumer." But hey, said the court, if that’s how we want to run things, fine with it. Now, argues the Times, is the chance to vote on whether it’s how we want to run things.

Money quote:
"This state is the home of Costco, a company that understands competitive retailing. Costco wrote I-1100 and collected most of the signatures to put the measure on the ballot. Doing this was not difficult. Several hundred thousand Washington citizens gladly signed."

The Stranger agrees with the Seattle Times (look at these two getting along). It is urging voters to vote for I-1100 and against I-1105, arguing that state legislators are too intimidated by unions representing liquor-store employees to ever privatize liquor on their own. The Stranger’s main issue with I-1105 is that it eliminates the liquor tax (1100 keeps the tax in place; both measures remove the state’s 51 percent markup). This is important because there is another initiative, I-1053, which looks very likely to pass. If it does, a three-fourths majority would be required to raise state taxes. So you’d have no more liquor taxes and essentially no way to make new ones. I-1105 and I-1053 are a deadly combination.

Money quote:
"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."

The Spokesman Review prefers I-1100 over I-1105 for similar reasons. It also addresses the public safety issue, arguing that the link between state-controlled booze and increased public safety has never really been established.

Money Quote:
"Without state controls, proponents say, underage drinking, drunken driving and other negative outcomes will increase. But the data are inconclusive. The Common Wealth Foundation in 2009 compared ‘control’ states such as ours with other states and concluded: ‘Evidence from 48 states over time shows no link between market controls and these social goals.’”

YES ON I-1105

I can’t find any publications that have endorsed I-1105 over I-1100.


Can you believe this is even a category? The editors of The Columbian can’t be bothered to decide which privatization initiative they want. Just give them cheaper booze already! (They also go all Bill and Ted on folks claiming privatization will present public safety problems, calling those claims "bogus.")

Money Quote:
"What, you might ask, would happen if both I-1100 and I-1105 pass?….The Legislature could resolve any differences with a two-thirds vote. If that vote comes up short, the issue would be taken to the courts, and among the solutions there could be recognizing the initiative that receives the most votes. That, though, is a technicality that can be pursued later. "


The editorial board of the Seattle PI urges readers to vote no on both initiatives. While the state should be kicked out of the liquor biz, it argues, state legislators should be the ones to do the kicking. And we shouldn’t let big business (Costco, big distributors) create law. Fair points, but here’s where it gets weird. The editors seem to believe that the fact that these two initiatives even made the ballot is likely to convince lawmakers in Olympia that it’s time for privatization even if both fail to pass.

Money Quote:
"The Legislature has not acted, but two initiatives on the ballot should light a fire and kindle another old truism: There’s nothing like a hanging in the morning to focus the mind."

Publicola is also pooping on the privatization party. Amidst financial and public safety concerns, Publicola’s editors fear that if liquor is privatized via initiative, we’d see a proliferation of liquor stores in poor areas, which they see as exasperating "food deserts:" low-income neighborhoods with a scarcity of fresh food options. I’m not sure the logic completely works, but the point is compelling.

Money Quote:
"States that have privatized their liquor sales have seen liquor stores concentrate in poor areas the same way payday loan stores and pawn shops do in Seattle today. Besides the fact that this is bad for neighborhoods—ask anyone in the South End if they’d prefer another corner store selling Steel Reserve and Colt 45 or a locally owned boutique—it will make it even harder for low-income residents to get fresh, nutritious food."

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