An exit from the liquor business
Saturday, October 22, 2011
What possible justification is there for state government to run a liquor monopoly? It is not just a monopoly on retail sales, but top to-bottom, complete domination of wholesale, distribution and marketing — the whole game.
The stated motivation in 1933 was the promotion of sobriety. Washington was a progressive state that fretted over the pernicious degrading effect of liquor on working families, a state that went dry early, and was not cheering for the repeal of Prohibition. Upon repeal, it replaced a criminal enterprise with state control. If liquor must be available, it should be boring, unadvertised, expensive and hard to get, not sold by saloonkeepers or distilleries.
That moralistic rationalizing is long abandoned. Washington keeps its liquor monopoly because the state profits from it, and the same agency charged with enforcing liquor control laws is in the business of selling it, and state officials who publicly bemoan the effects of excessive alcohol consumption budget the profits from its sale.
It’s time to end this moral contradiction. It’s time to abandon pretense. It’s time to end a state commercial monopoly we could not imagine or tolerate for any other product or business. Initiative 1183 is the means. It deserves a yes vote.
The shape of the argument has changed since we went through it with Initiative 1100 a year ago. The state’s liquor revenue and high markups will be replaced by a tax on sales. Revenue for state and local government will, by most estimates, increase. Where Wenatchee was looking at a loss of revenue from I-1100, it can expect an additional $1.3 million over six years with I-1183, says the state Office of Financial Management. The licenses of beer and wine sellers will not be upgraded automatically. There must be new applications, demonstrated competence and training and increased penalties for illegal sales. Stores must have a minimum of 10,000 square feet, or be in a remote area. There will not be a liquor store on every corner, if that is a worry.
If public safety is a concern remember that Washington’s alcohol consumption is not lower than many states with private liquor sales. It is not much different than California, where there is a liquor free-for-all much looser than I-1183 will allow, something we are told would threaten the safety of our children. The data from the National Institutes of Health show that per capita consumption of alcohol in Washington and California, polar opposites in state control and regulation, is nearly identical. In Washington, consumption of spirits is actually slightly higher. Underage drinking and drunken driving rates are also comparable.
If Initiative 1183 passes there will be more places to purchase liquor in Washington, yes. Will consumption increase? Probably not. Alcohol will still contribute to many societal problems, as it does around the world, but the state government will not be the one making the sale.
Initiative 1183 allows business to profit, and the state to tax and regulate. It is the relationship as it should be. It will erase the vestiges of Prohibition, allow the state to face up to alcohol with a clean conscience, and at last end this moral conflict. Vote yes on Initiative 1183.
This is the opinion of The Wenatchee World and its Editorial Board: Publisher Rufus Woods, Editor Cal FitzSimmons, Chief Financial Officer Janine Bakken and Editorial Page Editor Tracy Warner.
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