Thursday, April 22, 2010
It now seems possible, if not likely, an initiative could be on the ballot to force the state out of the booze business.
We have long favored the state turning over liquor sales to private industry.
What sense does it make for state government to promote the sale of liquor at its stores and, at the same time, oversee programs to curb the use of alcohol? It's hypocritical.
The hypocrisy has been relatively easy to tolerate because state liquor stores bring in big bucks -- and that's been welcome in the lousy economy.
However, if the sale of booze was turned over to private industry the state could make just as much money through tax sales and help the economy in the process.
But the transition has to be done right.
And this is why we have concerns about making this change through the initiative process. At this point, it is far from clear what proposal will be on the ballot.
Supporters of the idea filed initiative paperwork last week with state election officials. The paperwork included outlines of two drafts of a possible initiative to privatize liquor sales and distribution in the state. The sponsor was listed as Taekja Song of Redmond, with a campaign called Modernize Washington, The Associated Press reported.
Both versions of the proposed initiative would get the state out of the liquor sales and distribution business, allowing private companies to take over those functions. One version also would chuck the "three-tier" system of liquor regulation, which puts strong controls on the wholesaling, price markup and warehousing of alcohol, according to AP.
A transition of this magnitude would be tricky. We wouldn't, for example, want to take action to make it easier for minors to have access to alcohol. Nor would we want to put all those who work at state-run liquor stores out of work.
It seems these and other problems could be avoided with a well-planned transition. Perhaps a deal could be made with the union that represents liquor-store workers that would allow state workers to easily transition to the private sector.
This can best be done through the give and take of the legislative process. The various issues can be looked at from all sides and solutions to possible problems can be found.
Unfortunately, although the issue comes up year after year, the Legislature sticks with the status quo.
The idea of ending the state's liquor monopoly has legs, which could result in the passage of an initiative this year.
But we would prefer the change come through the Legislature.
If a proposal makes the ballot, legislative leaders need to take a clear stand and offer a viable alternative that is likely to be approved by the Legislature.
If not, the voters might have no choice but to take action on privatizing liquor sales.