New liquor-privatization measure, Initiative 1183, deserves a toast
The Seattle Times editorial board cheers Initiative 1183, which would privatize liquor wholesaling and retailing while generating more money for state and local government.
THE latest effort to replace Washington's state liquor monopoly, Initiative 1183, is the best yet.
The previous measure to create a competitive market, Initiative 1100, failed last November in part because it would have left state and local governments with less money. They have been under severe strain, and many voters felt that unfair.
The new measure, promoted by Costco Wholesale and Trader Joe's, would put state and local governments ahead of the game.
Two studies confirm this. One is by the state's Office of Financial Management. It estimates that during 2017, when the new system would be up and running and the old system all disposed of, the state would collect $35 million to $42 million more than under the current system. The second study, by the nonprofit Washington Research Council and partly funded by Costco, shows the state $36 million ahead in that year.
Local governments would collect $26 million to $34 million more, according to the government study, and $54 million more, according to the private study.
This knocks out the strongest argument used last fall against liquor privatization, which is that it would make public agencies worse off. I-1183 would make them better off.
There is a price for benefiting government. Liquor will not be cheap no matter who sells it. Under the state monopoly, Washington extracts more revenue from a gallon of spirits, $26.03, than any other state. California takes just $3.30.
Then again, California has a state income tax and Washington does not. Citizens here have chosen to have liquor bear more of the burden of public spending. It is a reasonable choice.
The people's gain from passing I-1183 will be in the lessening of public costs like state pensions for liquor-store employees, and in making shopping simpler. Most people will be able to buy spirits where they buy their groceries.
The state will remain in the liquor industry only as a regulator, which is all public safety requires.