Seattle Voter’s Crib Sheet

Boozy Ballot Initiatives

By Jessica Voelker September 14, 2010 Published in the October 2010 issue of Seattle Met

WASHINGTON VOTERS COULD TAKE our state out of the booze biz on November 2. Two liquor privatization initiatives—1100 and 1105—will appear on the ballot. If one (or both) passes, it will forever alter how liquor is made, moved, and sold here. This poses two tricky questions for We, the People. Should we support privatization? And if so, which of the two proposals has the better plan? Let’s look at the nitty-gritty.

Initiative 1100 aims to abolish Washington’s three-tier system, which segregates the manufacture of liquor from its distribution and sales. That means liquor companies could sell their spirits directly to stores, eliminating the middleman. The measure also calls for an end to the ban on volume discounts for alcoholic beverages, so big businesses like Costco —which has contributed more than $1 million in resources to 1100—could buy lots of it on the cheap. That, along with much slimmer markups from private retailers, translates to lower prices for consumers as well.

The second measure, 1105, proposes to privatize only retail stores, preserving the three-tier system and protecting distributors. It is backed, unsurprisingly, by two distribution giants: Youngs Market Company in Los Angeles and the Bellevue-based Odom Corporation. Proponents paint 1105 as the more temperate option, claiming it allows the state to more easily recoup dollars lost in the privatization process. ($333 million in liquor profits helped fund state and local programs last year, Seattle Weekly reported.)

In fact, both initiatives present comprehensive if complicated plans for returning lost revenue to the state, but what about public safety? If liquor goes private, Washington’s 5,000-plus beer and wine stores will all be eligible to sell the hard stuff—meaning there could be up to 16 times as many liquor stores in Washington neighborhoods. And statistically, private retailers sell significantly more liquor to minors than public programs. Not a problem, say initiative supporters. The liquor control board will have plenty of time to deal with public safety issues once it is no longer in sales.

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