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Voting no on alcohol measures is good policy

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

Along with these concerns for communities and public safety, 1100 and 1105 would harm Washington’s growing wine and craft beer industry by forcing our in-state producers to be at a competitive disadvantage to big out-of-state corporations. Both the craft brewers guild and the Wine Institute, which represents Washington’s wineries, have joined the Protect Our Communities coalition because of their concerns.

Initiative 1100, in particular, opens the door to pay-to-play, allowing big producers to cut special deals with stores to push local microbrews and Washington wines off the shelves. Those growing industries provide thousands of good jobs and contribute billions to our state economy. Times are tough enough already. We shouldn’t risk the loss of even more small business jobs.

Initiatives 1100 and 1105 ask us to pay far too high a price for a little convenience. I hope you’ll join me in voting NO on both I-1100 and I-1105.

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