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It's Not Broke

Editorial for Sept. 23, 2010

We've all heard the old saying, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

That's generally good advice. If something is working effectively, what is the point of tinkering with it?

Yet that is what we're seeing with two unwise initiatives that will appear on the November general election ballot in the state of Washington.

The initiatives are I-1100 and I-1105. If voters approve these, it means that private stores and other business outlets will be able to sell hard liquor. In the current system, the state licenses liquor outlets and collects taxes from the sales.

Specifically, I-1100 would allow any retail business with a beer and wine license (taverns, grocery stores, etc.) to sell liquor. I-1105, meanwhile, removes the liquor excise tax and would halt the state's distribution of liquor tax revenues to cities and counties around the state.

That's a bad idea in a time of shrinking municipal budgets. Times are tough enough without taking more money from our cities, our counties, and our state government.

Perhaps even worse, however, is the fact that passage of these initiatives would end funding to the state's Liquor Control Board, which is responsible for enforcement of liquor laws.

The Liquor Control Board reports that its enforcement program currently has a 94 percent compliance rating at state-run and contract liquor stores. Yet without funding, the Liquor Control Board is going to either disappear or become a "paper tiger."

As White Salmon City Administrator Pat Munyan recently pointed out in a memorandum to the White Salmon City Council, degrading the Liquor Control Board could have a serious negative social impact. Munyan warned of a likely increase in DUIs (driving while intoxicated), underage drinking, and public intoxication. That could trickle down and create more costs to local law enforcement agencies having to deal with the fallout.

The Washington State Auditor has estimated that there could be a ten-fold increase in the number of hard liquor outlets in the state if these measures are approved. Rather than 315 state-run liquor stores as there are now, the estimate shows that if these initiatives pass, there could be about 3,350 private stores selling booze.

That would create an obvious enforcement headache overnight -- even if the Liquor Control Board was not seeing its funding source dry up. Without even that thin line of cover, however, this is just asking for trouble.

The main impetus behind these initiatives seems to be to allow private store owners a way to increase profits. Yet if that profit comes with a significant cost to society, that is not a wise trade-off.

Tellingly, the initiatives are being funded by groups that stand to profit if voters approve the measures: I-1100 is primarily funded by retail giant Costco, while the I-1105 campaign is being bankrolled by two beverage distribution companies.

The current system appears to be working quite well, and we see no compelling reason to radically change the way it is operating.

We urge a "No" vote on I-1100 and I-1105.

JB

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