FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 20, 2011
OLYMPIA, Wash. – A group of local retailers and restaurants, whose members include Costco, the Northwest Grocery Association and the Washington Restaurant Association, today filed a ballot initiative that will privatize the distribution and sale of liquor in Washington state and provide hundreds of millions of dollars in additional revenues to state and local governments.
“This initiative will modernize the wholesale distribution and retail sales of liquor in a way that increases consumer choice and convenience, and increases state and local revenues while continuing to protect public safety and strictly regulate the distribution and sale of liquor,” said Joe Gilliam, president of the Northwest Grocery Association.
Under the initiative, a limited number of retail stores would be allowed to sell liquor if they meet certain requirements. Eligible stores would be required to have 10,000 square feet or more of fully enclosed retail space within a single structure or, in areas where larger stores are absent, meet other requirements set by the Liquor Control Board.
“Under the initiative, an estimated 1,500 grocery and retail stores would be eligible to apply for a license to sell liquor. The initiative would prohibit liquor from being sold at gas stations and small convenience stores,” said Gilliam. “In addition, the initiative requires a retail store to demonstrate to state regulators that it can effectively prevent sales of alcohol to underage minors in order to get a license to sell liquor. It also ensures that local communities have input before a liquor license can be issued to a local retailer and maintains all local zoning requirements and authority related to the location of liquor stores.”
Stores that are approved for licenses to sell liquor will pay 17 percent of their gross revenues from liquor sales to the state. Businesses that get licenses to distribute liquor would pay 10 percent of their gross revenues to the state the first two years and five percent thereafter.
Together, these license fees will provide state and local governments with tens of millions more per year in revenues than the current state liquor store system. This is in addition to the millions in cost reductions and profits from closing and selling the state’s liquor facilities and assets.
Under the proposed initiative, the state government would auction off its existing state-owned liquor distribution and liquor store facilities as well as the associated equipment.
Private distributors of alcohol would be allowed to obtain licenses to distribute liquor if they are approved by the Washington State Liquor Control Board.
License revenues from distributors and retailers would go into state and local budgets using the same formula applied to state liquor taxes, which would remain in place.
The initiative would also dedicate a portion of the new revenues raised from liquor license fees to increase funding for local public safety programs, including police, fire and emergency services in communities throughout the state.
In addition, under the initiative, fines and license suspension penalties for selling liquor to minors would be twice as strong as the existing fines and penalties for selling beer or wine to minors.
Provisions within the measure also update current laws on wine distribution, allowing wine distributors and wineries to give volume discounts on wholesale prices of wine to retail stores and restaurants and allowing retailers to distribute wine to their own stores from a central warehouse.
“By allowing competition in the distribution and sale of any product, including liquor, you bring about efficiencies, better product availability and more choices for customers,” said Anthony Anton, president and CEO of the Washington Restaurant Association. “We think this initiative improves upon previous liquor privatization proposals, and we are confident that we have developed a measure that most voters will support.”
Now that the initiative has been filed, it must go through the state process to establish an official ballot title before petitions can be printed. Supporters say they expect signature gathering to begin in roughly a month and they are confident the initiative will qualify for submission to the voters on the November state ballot.