Seattle Doesn’t Trust Costco to Hold Its Liquor

by on August 24, 2011

All this could be Costco's...then yours. (Actually, it's the bar at Still.) (Photo: MvB)

Publicola (natch) tips you off to the latest Elway poll on Initiative 1183 (aka “Costco’s liquor-privatization initiative”), which shows a full 50 percent in support of I-1183 statewide. But not so fast.

First, as Publicola cautions: “It’s worth noting, though, that most pundits say a measure needs to initially poll at around 60 percent so it has a cushion to withstand the inevitable negative campaigning of an election.”

And secondly, as the Seattlepi.com’s Chris Grygiel adds, 54 percent of Seattle respondents were opposed.

Predictably, law enforcement and religious groups have looked askance at a proposal whose success is based on increasing total liquor sales in Washington. They’ve been joined in this by the United Food and Commercial Workers union, which represents some 1,000 workers currently employed by the state in its liquor stores. (The UFCW argues, persuasively, that union employees running state liquor stores are more stringent about not selling alcohol to minors than private enterprises.)

I-1183 calls for the closure of state liquor stores and the liquor distribution center; private sellers would then be licensed, with the state still collecting a 17 percent vig from total liquor sales. To forestall corner booze emporia popping up, the initiative requires stores to have 10,000 square feet of retail space. But there’s no denying that the hope (or fear) is that greater convenience and “non-uniform wholesale pricing” would tend to increase liquor sales.

The state’s Office of Financial Management agrees, and offers this rosy prediction for a state beleaguered by deficit, should Washington adopt I-1183:

…total State General Fund revenues increase an estimated $216 million to $253 million and total local revenues increase an estimated $186 million to $227 million, after Liquor Control Board one-time and ongoing expenses, over six fiscal years. A one-time net state revenue gain of $28.4 million is estimated from sale of the state liquor distribution center.

So what’s Seattle’s problem? Democrats. We’re loaded with them, and 62 percent don’t seem to care for anything with “privatization” in the name. Seattle Republicans and independents, by contrast, are in favor 57 and 54 percent, respectively. It’s a little strange, in that initiative sponsor Costco is beloved by Democrats, at least those running for office. Maybe the emphasis should be on “de-socializing” liquor, instead?

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