Buzz Kill Bills

High-price booze legislation poops on the party.

By Jessica Voelker May 22, 2009 Published in the June 2009 issue of Seattle Met

ATTENTION IMBIBERS: Would you rather pay more for your hooch at your local liquor store or at the bar? How about both?

To dig itself out of a $9 billion budget deficit, the state legislature is experimenting with new ways to leech dollars from drinking. First there was Senate Bill 6119, brainchild of Bellevue Democrat Rodney Tom. The bill proposed to no longer guarantee bars and restaurants the 15 percent discount they currently receive on spirits, potentially forcing them to pay retail on their entire liquor supply. “This would be a disaster for bars, restaurants, and nightclubs,” said Quentin Ertel, president of the Seattle Nightlife and Music Association board and owner of Havana Social Club and the Saint on Capitol Hill. “If you’re operating at a 20 percent profit margin, and the goods you sell are suddenly 15 percent more expensive, you’re not looking at a pretty picture. What a stroke of genius—let’s create more unemployment in the middle of a recession!”

The bill never made it to vote. But in late April, as it resolved its budgetary concerns, the legislature included two provisions for sucking money (about $80 million total) from sauce sellers. The Washington State Liquor Control Board will now charge suppliers $1.05 more per liter of the hard stuff, and will also increase fees on liquor licenses by 10.5 percent over the next two years. While these measures are undeniably less damaging than 6119, Ertel says that for an already suffering sector—7,000 hospitality jobs were lost last January alone—the costs will mean fewer new local bars and restaurants. “It’s a shame because there’s so much innovation and so many good ideas going on in Seattle right now. And our elected representatives are throwing cold water on that, and killing off jobs at the same time. What the legislature’s done is given bar owners a great incentive to open up shop in Portland.”

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