Will Washington Drop the Booze Business?

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Most of Washington's bar owners, beverage distributors and state union activists don't yet know Charla Neuman. In a few weeks, there's a pretty good chance they will.

Neuman, a public relations consultant, is helping to organize one of what could be handful of ballot initiatives to privatize liquor sales in Washington. Her group's measure, likely to be introduced within a few days, would give wide latitude to the Washington State Liquor Control Board to allow independent liquor sales and change the existing fee structure for liquor licenses.

Essentially, advocates say, it would increase state revenue through liquor sales and licensing taxes while eliminating approximately 600 to 800 jobs from the state payroll by closing state-run liquor stores. Washington would see at additional $350 million over five years, they claim.

"The state," Neuman says, "should not be in the liquor business, especially in a recession. It's that simple."

Washington is one of 18 states that distribute liquor.

Details of the measure, one of three that could end up on the next ballot, have not been finalized. Likely opponents include state unions and neighborhood groups worried about the increasing number of corner liquor stores.

Bar owners could go either way. A draft of the initiative links licensing fees to annual liquor sales, so small bars might pay less for licensing while large bars pay more for a 10-year license. Depending on how the measure is written, bar owners might pay more for licensing while paying less for each bottle of booze.

Notes one Belltown bar manager who didn't want to comment on the record until he read the measure, "If we save a couple of grand on booze but pay an extra 10 grand on our liquor license, what good did that do us? I'm interested in the specifics before I make up my mind."

Neuman said final details of the measure will be out in the next couple of days.

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