A couple years ago a friend told me about an inexpensive but excellent brand of brandy. In Massachusetts I could have looked for it at the local supermarket, one of the many large or small liquor stores, or at Costco. Here in Washington, there was only one option: the WA state liquor control board store. I went there, they didn’t have it, out of luck. I ended up buying a bottle at an Idaho state liquor store. Later, I asked someone who was going to Oregon to pick one up. Not available in Washington state. Why? Because Big Brother says so.

Opponents of 1183 imply, and cite a Centers for Disease Control study, that allowing the public sector to sell hard liquor will make it more readily available to kids. The only evidence that might persuade me of this would be a state-by-state comparison. Do kids get their hands on more alcohol in Massachusetts or California than in Washington? I don’t know, but the opponents don’t even try to make that case. Besides, alcohol in forms much more desirable to underage drinkers — beer and wine coolers — are readily available practically everywhere, including in single cans and bottles at gas station mini marts. This essentially zeros out the kid argument for me.

They also argue that a loophole in the law would allow some mini marts to sell hard liquor. I don’t necessarily have a problem with this, but if true it’s apparently based on a small exception to the 10,000 square foot rule. Hard liquor would not be appearing at the vast majority of mini marts.

Again, opponents charge that state revenue will increase, and that this increase will be born by consumers of alcohol. Well, duh! All taxes on products sold at retail in Washington ultimately come from consumers. But there is a problem here: the assumption is that because revenue to the state will increase, therefore the cost of hard liquor to the consumer will increase. This does not necessarily follow, because the initiative also unleashes the price-lowering forces of competition into the marketplace. Costco, and many other stores, for example, will be able to add liquor sales to their existing stores with very little increase in overhead. So while the tax on an individual bottle might increase, the whole price to me might decrease.

But here’s the main issue: our state is broke. We’re facing a 2 billion dollar deficit in the current fiscal period. So the state must necessarily cut some non-essential services and find some new revenue. 1183 accomplishes both. Can anyone argue with a straight face that monopolistic control of retail liquor sales is an essential state function? No. Moreover, I as a state taxpayer have to pay for the salaries and benefits of the state employees who run the state liquor business whether I buy liquor or not. When I walk into Costco or some other store and buy a six-pack of beer, I’m taking care of the needs of the employees in that operation on the spot, in the course of that transaction. If I never touch a bottle again, I don’t have to continue paying their retirement and health care forever.

Legislators almost never close state departments or reduce the growth and control of government. I’m glad to have a direct say in this, and I say, get the state government out of the retail liquor business! Then I can get my particular brandy or adult beverage of my choice right here in my home town.

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