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Originally published Thursday, February 25, 2010 at 4:41 PM

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Guest columnist

State liquor stores make money and protect the public

The state Legislature should reject the proposal to deregulate state liquor stores, write guest columnists Jimmie James and Zack Hudgins. They argue the move would be a bad idea for reasons related to public safety, liquor control and state revenues.

Special to The Times

SOMETIMES, a bad idea just keeps coming back. That's the case with a proposal being discussed in our state capital to deregulate our state liquor stores. The proposal is part of the state House's budget proposal released this week.

It is was a bad idea when prior Republican and Democratic governors opposed it. It is still a bad idea in 2010. Why? Three words: safety, control and revenue.

• State liquor stores are operated by trained staff who have the highest compliance rate in the nation for making sure they don't sell alcohol to minors. This results in better public safety by keeping alcohol out of the hands of underage drinkers. The state system also has done an excellent job at locating stores in generally acceptable locations.

When it comes down to it, it makes sense to have a trained, salaried work force overseeing these liquor sales, rather than a sales clerk in a private company who would have an incentive to sell as much liquor as possible.

• The idea of liquor control has been around since the Prohibition era and has worked out pretty well in Washington. The people pushing the attempt to deregulate our state stores seem to feel we need to fix a system that isn't broken. In fact, the legislators pushing to deregulate don't have any complaints about the current system, they simply want to sell more alcohol to balance the budget.

The controlled sale of liquor results in a lower alcohol-consumption level compared with noncontrolled states. Why? Because states that have deregulated the sale of liquor allow profit to be the key factor in alcohol policy. Under state-control systems like ours, public health and safety is the driving force, not just profit.

There's little short-term gain in allowing it on the shelves of neighborhood convenience stores. Indeed, there's much more to lose if it is allowed.

In areas of Seattle and Kent, we have seen the effects of easily obtained alcohol even under the current system. We've seen the crime and misery that ensues when a community is left unprotected from overconsumption. We've talked with police officers who patrol these streets, and the mothers who have lost children to drunken drivers.

People in our communities tell us they want to limit public drinking, not make it easier for anybody to obtain hard liquor.

• While protecting public health and safety is the primary reason for state liquor control, the current system still generates more than $300 million in net revenue every year. It does not make any fiscal sense to consider changes in a system that is working fine and raising revenue — money that would otherwise come from raising taxes.

Year after year, study after study has shown the costs of selling off our state's liquor stores outweigh the benefits. Proponents of privatization neglect to mention that if we did it, the state could actually lose more money than we'd gain during the worst economic recession we've seen since the Great Depression.

The $300 million generated each year is returned to the state and local governments, and helps fund the law enforcement and first responders necessary to ensure our public safety. In contrast, states without control receive about half the revenue that Washington does, with most of the profit going to the retailers and leaving the state.

Privatizing liquor stores will increase the number of them in our communities, possibly raise taxes, cut jobs with benefits, put more drunken drivers and underage drinkers on our streets, and distract from the real fixes so desperately needed to our economy.

The Rev. Jimmie James, left, lives in Kent. Democratic state Rep. Zack Hudgins represents the 11th Legislative District, including South Seattle, Tukwila and parts of Renton.

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