Saturday, October 31, 2009
Washington’s state government, like all retailers, is looking to boost sales and beef up its revenue during the holiday season.
What? State government isn’t a retailer, is it?
Actually it is. The state peddles booze. The State Liquor Control Board or those it contracts to operate retail locations are the only ones with the legal authority to sell hard liquor such as vodka or gin.
Today through the end of this year, the liquor agency will be selling spirits, wine and liquor-related gifts at temporary liquor stores at four malls in Western Washington. The state is considering two additional locations, and if sales are strong this year, it might open as many as eight holiday shops next year, The Seattle Times reported last week.
The mall outlets are projected to post sales of $3.8 million over two years, said Brian Smith, spokesman for the Liquor Control Board, which operates 160 liquor stores around the state. "It’s an opportunity to help contribute money to the state’s budget deficit and provide, in a tasteful way, the type of products our over-21 population might be looking for as gifts," Smith said.
If the state is looking to make some cash, this is a fool-proof — and 80-proof — plan.
But we continue to question why the state is still in the liquor business. That’s a relic of the past that the Legislature should end.
What sense does it make that state government promotes the sale of liquor at its stores and, at the same time, oversees programs to curb the use of alcohol? It’s hypocritical.
The hypocrisy has been ignored by lawmakers and citizens because state liquor stores bring in big bucks. And, of course, those working at the state liquor stores don’t want to lose their jobs. We don’t blame them.
Nevertheless, we continue to believe the state should get out of the retail business. Let grocery stores sell booze and then tax it.
It’s possible, the transition could be done in a way the state won’t see a decline in state revenue and the employees could keep their jobs.
The private retailers who take over liquor sales would be required to hire the employees. They have knowledge of the product and experience that these private retailers would need.
Ultimately turning this enterprise over to the private sector would benefit the state’s overall economy.
And if the state were not fixated on boosting sales (and revenue) at its stores, it could concentrate on policing the sales and the use of alcohol. The move would give state programs to curb alcohol abuse a lot more validity.
The state government hawking booze at malls in a kiosk next to someone selling a Hickory Farms sausage gift pack just doesn’t feel right.