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Originally published Monday, July 29, 2013 at 5:47 PM

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Editorial: Liquor privatization a year later

A year after it went into effect, liquor privatization in Washington is working as advertised.

Seattle Times Editorial

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MORE than a year after Washington voters approved Initiative 1183, allowing the sale of liquor in licensed private stores, the social disaster predicted by supporters of state stores has not happened.

Liquor consumption is up, as opponents predicted, but not by a dramatic amount. In the 12 months that ended May 31, state-taxed sales of liquor, including bars and restaurants, were up by less than 1.5 percent.

People complained that prices in private stores were higher, and generally they were. The average retail price per liter sold, including tax, was $23.87 in May 2013, up from $21.07 the year before. Bars and restaurants paid an average $18.77 in May 2013, up from $18.09 a year earlier. Tax collections were up 9.7 percent; the privatization initiative was written to insure the state came out ahead, and it did.

Washington has the highest liquor taxes in the union. That didn’t change.

In 2011 the campaign against Initiative 1183 predicted carnage on the roads. There have been several alcohol-related disastrous accidents, which prompted some good tightening of drunken-driving laws. But statewide the number of alcohol-related collisions has declined. In the last four years of the state stores there were more than 2,500 drinking-related collisions a year. In the year that ended June 30 there were 2,347.

In each of the previous four years, arrests for drunken driving had been greater than 21,000 each year. In the year ended June 30 they fell to 19,703.

Compliance rates for sales to under-21 customers, as checked by Washington State Liquor Control Board inspectors, have been about 92 percent compared with 94 percent in the last year of the state stores.

In 2011 the ads for Initiative 1183 were funded almost entirely by Costco Wholesale, which was received at the time with some cynicism. In retrospect, Costco’s ads were much more honest than the alarmist ads put out by its opponents.

Alcohol remains a dangerous drug that needs to be managed, and in 2011 the voters of Washington approved a new way of managing it. The result is far from perfect, but seems to be better than the way it was done before.

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