Private Liquor Store Measure Introduced: End of State Stores Coming?

The Washington Citizens for Liquor Reform introduced a measure today to privatize liquor sales in Washington. The measure, expected to be backed by major supermarket retailers among others, effectively would end the state's decades-old liquor business.

"We think a broad group of people will get behind this," says Charla Neuman, the group's spokeswoman.

The measure would allow retailers from corner stores to large supermarket an opportunity to get a retail liquor license and sell packaged booze. License fees would be linked to the quantity of liquor sales. In other words, low-volume liquor sellers would pay less than large retailers for a license.

Clarifying language from an earlier draft of the initiative, Neuman says it would not affect bars and restaurants but instead create a whole new class of licensees. She says the state would make an additional $100 million over the next five years through new licensing fees and sales taxes.

The Washington Citizens for Liquor Reform must gather 241,153 signatures before July 2 to qualify the measure for the November ballot. Neuman says signatures and money won't be a problem.

"The financial support will be there when we need it," she says.

Washington is one of only 18 states that operate liquor stores. Much of the regulation dates back to post-prohibition concerns about illegal, unregulated and untaxed liquor sales.

Opposition is expected from state worker unions. An estimated 600 to 800 people currently employed in state stores could lose their jobs. Neuman said the measure would include money for "retraining."

Also, neighborhood groups in other states where liquor sales were expanded to major retailers opposed similar legislation based on concern that it would make corner liquor stores a growth industry.

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