Legislature must keep eye on liquor sales


Politics, booze and money have been intertwined since, well, the advent of politics, booze and money.

So it’s hardly a surprise that Washington state’s voter-approved effort to get the state out of the liquor businesses appears to be on a collision course over the most profitable way to distribute and sell spirits.

Unfortunately, the end result of the political (and, perhaps, court) battle between distributors, retailers, restaurants and bars — all with various agendas — will be higher prices for consumers.

The Legislature will, in the end, likely make the final call on any changes made to Initiative 1183. But at this point, it’s the Liquor Control Board and its staff trying to administer rules based on what the voters approved.

When millions of dollars are involved, the distributors, restaurants/bars and various retailers, whether giant, large or small, each have a different take on the prices and fees that should be connected when the booze is sold.

The latest flap has come in the wake of the Liquor Control Board deciding in November that discounted volume sales of liquor from distributors to bars and restaurants wasn’t allowed under the new law. The issue was brought to the Board by former state contract stores, which weren’t getting the discount prices restaurants were enjoying, according to an Associated Press report. The Board, however, left wiggle room in its decision, agreeing the Legislature could tinker with the way the so-called channel pricing works for distributors and restaurants.

The Liquor Control Board is trying to avoid a protracted legal battle. That might be unrealistic. There already have been lawsuits and consumers are upset, if not outraged, by the prices of booze post privatization.

Those selling booze in Washington state aren’t happy either as the higher-than-expected prices are driving customers living near Idaho or Oregon — such as those living in Walla Walla — across the borders for bargains. It is estimated those states each saw a $10 million increase in liquor sales last year.

The Legislature probably doesn’t want to wade into this mess, but it must at some point.

The Liquor Control Board needs time to attempt to make the law work as approved by the voters. This should include making sure the appropriate taxes are collected to benefit state government (and citizens).

The initiative process isn’t the best way to write laws, as the proposals are written by special-interest groups with a goal in mind. This is why lawmakers have the authority to make changes to initiatives or even repeal them.

Ultimately, if or when lawmakers decide to tinker with the privatization of liquor sales they should try to curb greed while seeking to keep prices reasonable for consumers. And, all the while, they must accept they won’t make everybody (or, perhaps, nobody) happy.


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