It's finally time to get serious about reforming the state-controlled liquor business, and after a strong but fizzled challenge to the state monopoly by two would-be privatizing initiatives, I-1100 and I-1105, the state Senate Labor Committee will huddle today to talk change. According to Jason Mercier of the Washington Policy Center, lawmakers first have to determine what voters were saying. Was the November vote an endorsement of the liquor monopoly or just a rejection of those particular privatization models?
As well, writes Mercier:
As lawmakers address a projected budget shortfall totaling nearly $6 billion, they must determine whether running a liquor business is a core function of government. Should they decide it isn't, they have the option of putting a referendum on the ballot to provide voters a more nuanced opportunity to render their verdict.
At present, there are 330 retail liquor outlets in the state, half of them state-owned stores and half private, contract stores. The Legislature has already called for a plan to convert some of the state stores to private, but the Liquor Control Board is resisting...
With the state in a budget crisis, the control system offers money making opportunities through privatizing liquor stores as well as the state's big booze warehouse operations. At the least, expansion of the system to include mini-liquor stores in grocery stores and malls with longer hours might provide that "convenience" sought by those who voted for privatization.
Mercier gives his own examples of reform, which include partial privatization and ways to create more competition. But "The question remaining," he adds, "is does the legislature have the will to do so?"