This Washington

Third Liquor Privatization Initiative Filed

By Erica C. Barnett May 6, 2010

A group of liquor-privatization proponents has officially filed an initiative (which we wrote about back in April) that they say will raise as much as $300 million for the state over the next five years. That money, initiative backers claim, would come from the sale or auction of state liquor licenses, annual license fees, business and operations taxes, sales taxes on liquor distributors, and  the sale of the state’s distribution warehouse and inventory.

The ballot measure, if it passed, would direct the state liquor control board to "recommend a rate of taxation that, along with other spirits-related revenue sources, would project to generate at least the same annual revenue for the state and local jurisdictions as under the current state control system, as well as at least an additional $100 million in projected revenue net of expenses of operating the business over the entire course of the five-year period commencing November 1, 2011."

Charla Neuman, spokeswoman for Washingtonians for Liquor Reform, the group backing the initiative, says two competing initiatives,  filed by a separate group, could put the state "at risk of losing money, because the only revenue that I saw [in the competing initiatives] was a flat fee for their retail license of $1,000 or $2,000. How do you make money on that unless you have one on every corner overnight?"

Sharon Gilpin, spokeswoman for Modernize Washington, which proposed the competing initiatives, said in an email last month that her group's proposal would raise more than enough revenues to pay for itself. "According to [state law] the board can take up to $2 million out of its revenues every year to pay for administration of the title. ... The reality of the Modernize [Washington] initiative is that it will--according to the State Auditor's Office---return hundreds of millions of dollars to the General Fund.  And the ability to tax liquor ... remains in the Legislatures hands."

Neuman said her group's initiative would not necessarily make liquor cheaper, but that it would "create more jobs and lots of private business opportunities. It certainly makes shopping more convenient."
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