(This guest Slog post is by Ashley Bach, spokesman for the Yes to 1100 campaign. More info on the measure is in the voters' guide.)
State liquor stores are ugly and hard to find, with bad hours, lousy customer service, little choice, astronomical prices, and very few locations. They are an insulting relic of the Prohibition era and make no sense for Washington today. Beer and wine fills up aisles and aisles at our grocery and convenience stores, while liquor is stuck in some retail wilderness out of the Eastern bloc.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in Olympia know the system is broken, and privatizing our state’s liquor sales has been officially “under consideration” for decades. But our Legislature, consumed by special interests, has failed to act, and there is no hope in sight that it ever will.
Enter Initiative 1100, which gives voters the ability to reform the liquor system ourselves, and do it in a smart and responsible way.
I-1100 closes all state liquor stores by December 2011 and allows private retailers currently selling beer and wine to sell liquor. These stores already sell alcohol—liquor will just be another product available on their shelves. Many eligible stores will choose not to sell liquor because it won’t pencil out for them.
After all, beer and wine already account for 68 percent of alcohol consumption in this country. Beer also accounts for 67 percent of our country’s binge drinking, and is the preferred beverage for drunk drivers, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. You won’t see those stats in the “No” campaign ads funded by Big Beer and the beer distributors.
In all the major alcohol metrics—alcohol consumption, underage drinking, DUI arrests—the 32 states that have privatized their liquor sales and are doing the same, and in many cases better, than the 18 states with state-run stores.
I-1100 will help make our state safer because our liquor board will no longer be focused on selling as much alcohol as possible, while it’s supposed to also be responsible for enforcing alcohol laws. How can the regulator regulate itself?
I-1100 is also fiscally responsible. Unlike I-1105, I-1100 keeps all liquor taxes—which generate $224 million a year—in place. What goes away under I-1100 is the 51.9 percent markup that makes our liquor the most expensive in the country.
Even without the markup, I-1100’s estimated impact on state government is less than one-tenth of one percent of the general fund, and one-tenth of one percent of each local government’s budget. Even those state estimates are far too high, and will be made up by local B&O tax on liquor—a completely new revenue source under I-1100—and potentially increased liquor tax revenue.
It’s time for Washington to join the majority of states and allow liquor sales in private stores. Vote Yes on 1100.