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Voting no on alcohol measures is good policy

Initiatives 1100 and 1105 are too risky and go too far.

Whisky brands

Whisky brands Photo: Mogens Engelund/Wikimedia Commons

In Okanogan, a former bakery became a liquor store. Will Washington have too many liquor outlets if state law is changed?

In Okanogan, a former bakery became a liquor store. Will Washington have too many liquor outlets if state law is changed? Joe Mabel/Wikimedia Commons

Initiatives 1100 and 1105 on the statewide ballot are bad public policy. They are too risky and simply go too far. Both will slash state and local government revenues precisely when we’re already seeing big cuts to public services and public safety. They’ll create at least 3,300 new hard liquor outlets in neighborhoods across the state, leading to more underage drinking and other alcohol-related problems. And they’ll harm Washington’s growing craft brewery and winery community, imperiling thousands of jobs.

That is far too high a price to pay for a little convenience. The city of Seattle is already reeling from a major budget shortfall. If these initiatives pass — costing local governments around $200 million over the next five years — we’ll see even deeper cuts, including cops taken off the street, an increase in underage drinking, and job losses across the state. All because it’s apparently really important to be able to a buy bottle of booze from the corner mini-mart at 2 a.m.

I couldn’t disagree more. That’s why I’ve joined a broad coalition of law enforcement officials, small craft breweries and wineries, faith leaders, small business persons, community leaders, and labor organizations in urging you to vote no on Initiatives 1100 and 1105.

The reasons to oppose the initiatives are many, but the biggest one may be how the initiatives take convenience to its most costly extreme. According to the state auditor, hard liquor outlets will increase from the current 315 to at least 3,300, and could grow to more than 5,000.

These measures go much farther than the systems in place in other states. If 1100 and 1105 pass, we will have at least ten times as many outlets selling hard liquor than we currently do, and about twice as many hard liquor outlets as California — the Seattle Times investigated and found this to be true. And those outlets will be allowed to sell hard liquor until 2 a.m. The Association of Washington Cities estimates Seattle’s outlets would go from 22 to 552! Renton? From three, to 84. Bellevue: from six, to 81. And the list goes on. (Find the list here.)

What does that explosion in hard liquor outlets mean for Washington’s communities? It means an inevitable increase in alcohol-related problems: more drunk driving, more binge drinking and problem drinkers, more underage drinking and all the problems that can cause.

I-1100 and 1105 mean a little more convenience at a very high cost.

Unfortunately, that convenience would extend to precisely those who shouldn’t have easy access to alcohol: our youth. Washington is currently ranked among the best states when it comes to preventing kids from getting their hands on hard alcohol. If these initiatives pass and convenience stores and gas stations can sell hard liquor, underage drinking and drunk driving will increase. It’s just common sense. In fact, based on enforcement data kept by the State Liquor Board’s enforcement arm, convenience stores and mini-marts sell to minors 25 percent of the time, while state stores have a 94 percent compliance rate.

Those are among the big reasons the sheriffs of Snohomish, Thurston, Cowlitz, and Clark counties, along with many other law enforcement officials, are opposing1100 and 1105. But that’s not all the harm the initiatives would cause.

In the depths of a recession, when state and local governments are already cutting crucial public services like law enforcement and emergency services, Initiatives 1100 and 1105 would cut as much as $730 million from state and local budgets over the next five years. Meanwhile, they do nothing to increase enforcement, despite the huge explosion in outlets selling hard liquor. Virginia’s governor just shelved a similar, though less extreme proposal to our liquor initiatives because he received bipartisan opposition from legislators worried about a three-fold increase in new outlets and a major revenue loss. We should follow suit.

As important public services take a big hit, the initiatives would cause even further strain to law enforcement and first responders as hard alcohol access becomes as easy as driving to the local gas station mini-mart. The simple fact is 1100 and 1105 are too risky for our communities.


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Comments:

Posted Wed, Oct 27, 1 p.m. Inappropriate

I know it's almost Halloween, but please stop with the BS scare tactics. Unless you've got data that shows states without state liquor stores have statistically significant higher alcohol related incidents you're just blowing smoke.

If the revenue loss turns out to be as bad as expected raising the tax on hard alcohol should easily get through Olympia with tea totaling Republicans finding common cause with tax loving Democrats.

My vote for Initiative 1100 has nothing to do with wanting to buy booze at 2AM or at Costco. I'd just like to buy booze from a merchant who is familiar with the products they sell and has a concept of customer service. The state stores have a poor selection along with surly employees who are ignorant of the inventory.

normfox

Posted Wed, Oct 27, 1:44 p.m. Inappropriate

I agree with normfox, especially about morose, dead in the eyes employees. If you have a job at least pretend to like it, or get a new one.

Initiatives such as I-1100 occur due to the legislatures extreme inability to act; the state has had years to come up with an alternative that would satiate the people.

Whenever I travel to California or Hawaii, I go to the ABC or Costco and think, "Yes, this is how it should be."

Cheers to $26 Absolute 1/2 gallons at Costco.

username

Posted Wed, Oct 27, 5:27 p.m. Inappropriate

Funny that the guy who didn't touch the Hempfest folks is suddenly concerned about public intoxication.

Smoking ban, MJ still illegal, not a word from Seattle's City Joke.

Cameron

Posted Thu, Oct 28, 6:54 a.m. Inappropriate

This is a democracy we live in. If the measure passes it's because the people want it. In this country the government is supposed to serve the people. Not that the people are supposed to serve the government. It seems to many on both sides (Democrats and Republicans) often forget that. And scare tactics seem to be the only resort for supporters of 1100 and 1105. I haven't seen any statistics that back up their claims.

fgruben

Posted Thu, Oct 28, 8:46 a.m. Inappropriate

Is this honest reporting or scare tactics attempting to move people to vote no on I-1100 & i-1105? Just for reminders, I heard the same arguments over ten years ago when there was an Initiative on the ballot to legalize beer and wine sales on Sundays and how did that work out? It appears like the State made out quite well and all the objections were proved wrong. Now, we face privatizing liquor sales. Let me as some pointed questions?

How much does the State pay in rent and utility costs for running its State Liquor Stores? How much does it cost to employ the approximately 800 State Liquor Store employees- including health care benefits, vacations, and retirements? How much money does the State loose in bottle breakage and stolen bottles? Does the State have to pay ( up front) for all the liquor in the State run liquor stores? What does the State do with the liquor that it doesn’t sell? How much does it cost the State to transport liquor from the main distribution center (located in Seattle) to the approximately 300 State run liquor stores located throughout the State (primarily in major metropolitan areas)?

I raise those questions because if liquor sales are privatized then it is the private sector that will ‘eat’ those costs and not the State. If liquor sales are privatized the State will still collect revenue from the taxes collected ($223million for liquor & $60 million for beer & wine, according to the chart)! Additionally, the State will collect license fees for all the stores that sell liquor (which State run liquor stores don’t pay). Privatizing liquor sales also gives our State Legislature an opportunity to concentrate on governing and not trying to run a business. Therefore, I urge everyone to VOTE YES on both I-1100 & I-1105.

Posted Thu, Oct 28, 9:14 a.m. Inappropriate

The GOVT has no business selling liquor, period. Nor should citizens be asked to pay salaries or pensions for liquor store clerks. As an adult, I should be able to go to the shop of my choice and find a wide selection of the legal beverage of my choice (in this case, cognac, which I drink hardly at all but which I enjoy immensely a few times a year) and not have to accept the pitiful selection the state deems sufficient at its dispenseries. As I said, I hardly drink at all; convenience of the "I need a fix at 2AM" variety has nothing to do with it for me. But never mind pensions and cognac . . . it's all about my first point. It really is that simple.

Sea Wolf

Posted Thu, Oct 28, 10:28 a.m. Inappropriate

I'm puzzled why the measure should "cost the state", meaning cause the state to lose revenue. Don't they tax the alcohol? Tax the alcohol at whatever rate it takes to be revenue-neutral. I'm not saying it's right, just saying they can.

Posted Thu, Oct 28, 10:40 a.m. Inappropriate

We should be clear that I-1100 (and certainly I-1105 which removes taxes) will have a negative impact on state, county and city coffers.

Looking at the Voters' Guide, "Initiative 1100 would retain existing taxes on the sales of spirits, with minor modifications" but what will be lost is the revenue from markup on liquor sold. The Fiscal Impact Statement for I-1100, the state will lose $76 million to $85 million and counties and cities $180 million to $192 million over five fiscal years. This was profit available AFTER paying expenses for distribution and sales.

I expect if this passes, liquor will be cheaper (smaller markup) but we'll likely see a tax increase to pay for it

sully

Posted Thu, Oct 28, 10:49 a.m. Inappropriate

Yet another "public servant" serving up scare tactics. Pete you should be ashamed of yourself. Your arguments are as hollow as a carved pumpkin. "leading to more underage drinking and other alcohol-related problems" -- where is your proof (no pun intended)? That's not what's happened in other privatized states, which have LOWER per capita DUI and other alcohol-related stats than we do. "Harm the craft brew and winery community" -- funny, that's not what the 100 or more wineries or the brewers supporting 1100 say -- you know better? But the biggest canard is "we'll see even bigger cuts, including cops taken off the street." The approximate (and still inflated) $4 million impact on Seattle's $888 million general fund budget is less than one-half of one percent -- and that could easily addressed by eliminating some of the HUNDREDS of "strategic advisors" the mayor has sprinkled through city departments, as well as cutting his bloated communications staff, and cutting other nonessential "services." Any city councilmember or mayor or county councilmember who agrees to cut ANY public safety activity while keeping their own bloated staff intact would be making a conscious decision about what to them matters most.

Posted Thu, Oct 28, 10:55 a.m. Inappropriate

The author is totally mis-characterizing the issue. It is not about convenience. The bigger question is: What is the proper role of government? Should the state government be in the business of selling liquor?

My answer is a resounding NO. This is not a proper role of government. Period.

The issues are separable. In other words, enforcement of our liquor laws is not the same function as selling liquor. Enforcement is a different issue. We could make the consequences of selling liquor to minors very strict. And regarding the revenue to the state, if we thought that was a good source of revenue, we could increase the tax on liquor.

It is always interesting to see these straw man arguments. Because it means the author has no real argument.

taupe

Posted Thu, Oct 28, 11:03 a.m. Inappropriate

I agree with charlie651 on everything except one very important point. If you want to privatize the sale of hard alcohol in the state of Washington, then vote "Yes" on I-1100 but "No" on I-1105. We don't want to see both of these measures passing because if they do, the whole matter will end up in court to iron out their differences. That could be a legal minefield, and would likely put this needed reform on hold. I choose I-1100 because it would bring about the most thorough reform (and, according to polls, is the most likely to pass in the first place). I-1105 seems just like an opportunistic attempt by some liquor distributors to take over the state's distribution monopoly.

Posted Thu, Oct 28, 12:08 p.m. Inappropriate

The perfect storm has arrived. Eliminate state employee salaries, benefits, etc. Increase private choice and options for spirits and real liquor. Cut down on auto pollution due to long drives to the few state stores. Prioritize essential functions of government. Vote YES on I-1100 and I-1105.

animalal

Posted Thu, Oct 28, 10:21 p.m. Inappropriate

But health and safety are core functions of government. That's why we have DUI laws in the first place (and speed limits, and laws against public defecation, and food inspections). I see no prima facie reason why the state shouldn't exercise that legitimate function at the prevention end of the equation instead of only at the violation end. You can't buy a gun at a convenience store, either.

Secondly, the issue isn't only about driving. It's also about domestic violence primarily against women and children, loss of work time, decreases in productivity. The U.S. went through this battle in the 19th century as we switched from a hard alcohol (whiskey) to a soft alcohol (beer) culture. Even soft alcohol England is fighting this issue in binge drinking at closing time. The recent case in Roslyn highlights how the market preys upon segments of the population (think fortified wine in Pioneer Square). The government should be involved in the cause of the general welfare.

Alcohol is a drug and should be regulated, no matter how romantically you try and re-cast it or how many jokes you make about it.

bkochis

Posted Fri, Oct 29, 9:40 a.m. Inappropriate

Based on your reasoning, bkochis, the state should really do a Venezuela on both pharmacies and gun stores in this state. In fact, any product that the state deems necessary to control on 'the prevention end' should be taken over and sold in state stores. Seems to me the Soviets tried this method and it didn't work out so well. Vote "Yes" on I-1100 and "No" on I-1105! State government should concentrate on doing government business and leave the other stuff to us.

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