The law barring Sunday sales dates back to before Prohibition, when prim moralizers believed in limiting public activity on Sundays to trips to church and back. Now legislators in Olympia are seriously contemplating doing away with the restriction. If they pass the bill, which would allow sales at only 20 state-owned stores as well as, on a voluntary basis, the 154 contract stores in mostly rural areas, Washington State would join a growing national consensus that Sunday sales make sense. When first cosidered here a couple of years ago, only 21 states permitted Sunday sales; now 32 states, including Oregon, allow it. Not incidentally, the move would add millions annually to state and local coffers.
The Times has previously all but con- ceded that its support for the law is anachronistic. On February 23, in a piece titled "Blue Sundays," associate editorial page editor Lee Moriwaki wrote that he was "waxing nostalgic over our state's old blue laws that kept many stores shuttered on Sundays," a state of mind he admitted was "warped and irrational" and perhaps attributable to "the onset of my AARP years."
A retreat into a reflexive old-fartism, which we might define as a debilitating psychological state characterized chiefly by irrational fear of cultural change, appears to be a routine workplace malady for opinion-makers at provincial dailies. It's certainly widespread at the Times, where, to cite just one other example, editorial page editor Jim Vesely on Sunday proclaimed "the death of the Eastside." His reasoning? Horror of horrors, the Eastside is urbanizing rapidly.
But back to Sunday sales. On Monday, the Times claimed that "this tax-generating scheme is rooted in the optimism of a three-martini lunch." Actually, the Times editorial appears to be rooted in the logical quicksand of a triple-bourbon fog. Take, for example, the factual errors. The Times twice references the bill as House Bill 1367, which is a bill about "prescribing license fees for small trailers." The Sunday liquor-sales bill, which passed the house and is now in the senate, is House Bill 1379. The Times also stated that there are 160 state-owned stores; actually, there are 161.
But facts aside, what was really wrong with the Times editorial was that it lacked any central argument. Is it that the Times considers Sunday sales immoral? Is it that such sales won't generate any revenue? Is it that even if there are revenue gains, it would not be worth the consequences to public order? The Times did not say. They did pooh-pooh the potential revenue gains from the bill, saying that estimates in previous years "projected almost zero revenue." But Oregon enjoyed 14 percent sales growth after allowing Sunday sales in 2003, and there is strong evidence that the Washington estimate, of an $8.1 million net gain over the next biennium, is on the conservative side.
In an e-mail responding to questions about the Times' reasoning, Vesely wrote, "The editorial speaks for itself," but added that the Times' objection to such sales was not a moral one. "In the larger context of our editorials centering on the job being done in Olympia, the Times opinion remains that the legislature should try to keep within current revenue first, before expanding revenue sources," he wrote.
That sounds reasonable at first, but doesn't really make sense. The Times is conservative on fiscal issues, and doesn't like tax increases. Fine. But why would they oppose an idea that would increase revenues without a tax increase?
They say they don't have a moral objection to Sunday liquor sales. Let's take them at their word. As old farts, maybe they just don't like change. But that is no substitute for a sensible argument.