I-1183 is right way to get state out of the booze business

The initiative will bring in more money for the state and boost enforcement of liquor laws.

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We have used this space many times over the years to urge the state of Washington to get out of the booze business. It's always seemed hypocritical for the state to actively promote the sales of scotch, vodka, tequila and more while overseeing enforcement of alcohol laws.

Yet, when proposals have been on the ballot that would have gotten the state out of the liquor business we have urged voters to reject them. That's because the ballot measures essentially called for the state to give away the stores - or, at least, sell them off cheaply.

But the proposal on the Nov. 8 ballot, Initiative 1183, protects the interest of the state and its taxpayers. This is a proposal we can support.

I-1183 gets the state out of the liquor business and would allow grocery stores and other private retailers such as Costco to sell liquor, buying it wholesale either from distributors or distilleries.

The proposal creates a fee schedule - 17 percent fee for retailers and a 10 percent fee for distributors - on the sale of liquor sales to ensure the state makes up for the revenue lost when its stores are closed.

It is estimated the shift from state-run liquor stores to private distribution will generate a projected $400 million more than the current system over the next six years for state and local governments. The state needs the new revenue but it is even more important for local governments that are hurting even more.

The extra cash from liquor sales will help fund police, fire and other city services.

Booze isn't going to be sold on street corners or minimarts. I-1183 mandates liquor and wine to be sold only in stores of 10,000 square feet or more. This would include most major grocery stores and big-box retailers. The exception would be in tiny towns in rural areas where no such stores exist, but those towns are already served by small private stores under contract to the Liquor Control Board.

The price of liquor for consumers will likely drop.

The state's 52 percent markup at its stores would be gone, leaving the new stores to set their own prices. Competition would play a key role in establishing prices as the state monopoly would be gone. This should force the price down.

I-1183 will benefit more than those who buy booze, it will also benefit the public. It sets aside a portion of new revenues specifically to local police, fire and emergency services throughout the state.

It should strengthen enforcement of liquor laws. The proposal doubles penalties for selling liquor to minors, mandates new employee training and supervision requirements for stores that sell liquor.

Ultimately, I-1183 gets the state out of the liquor business while generating more money for the state treasury. And this will allow the state to stick to the business of regulating liquor.

We recommend voters approve I-1183.

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