My ballot was mailed earlier this week, but unlike Goldy, I was torn over I-1100. I’d really like to see the state’s monopoly over liquor sales go away. The state store system is archaic, and one can easily look at state-by-state statistics to see that states with privatized liquor sales don’t have more problems with drunk driving (one of the bogus scare tactics that proponents have been using to get people to vote against it). There’s an argument to be made that underage people could potentially access liquor easier, but I think that’s a problem that can be solved with better enforcement and larger fines.
On the other hand, I wasn’t convinced that I-1100 adequately addressed the drop in revenue that would occur from dismantling the system. And in a year where our revenue problems aren’t showing any signs of improving, this outweighed my desire to move to a regulatory system that was more customer- and retailer-friendly. I ended up voting against it.
I’m currently reading Last Call by Daniel Okrent, a book detailing the history of alcohol prohibition. What’s interesting is that when the late 19th century movement to ban alcohol was gathering steam, the movement ran into a similar problem:
By 1910 the federal government was drawing more than $200 million a year from the bottle and the keg – 71 percent of all internal revenue, and more than 30 percent of federal revenue overall. Only external revenue – the tariff – provided a larger share of the federal budget, and by the end of the first decade of the twentieth century the tariff’s continuation was the most intensely debated issue in American public life. It would be hard enough to fund the cost of government without the tariff and impossible without a liquor tax. Given that you wouldn’t collect much revenue from a liquor tax in a nation where there was no liquor, this might have seemed an insurmountable problem for the Prohibition movement. Unless, that is, you could weld the drive for Prohibition to the campaign for another reform, the creation of a tax on incomes.
It may make us feel uncomfortable to have our budgets rely on revenue generated by the sale of alcohol, but that was the reality then and it’s the reality now. In fact, Okrent points out that taxes on liquor helped fund each of the wars of the 19th century, from the War of 1812 to the Spanish-American War. Right now, our state relies on the revenue it generates from controlling the sale of liquor. I’d be perfectly happy with breaking that dependency, but it doesn’t happen from wishful thinking alone. It requires figuring out how to restructure our tax system to allow for us to replace that lost revenue. With the outcome of I-1053 and I-1098 about to be decided as well – each having a large impact on how our tax system is structured, it’s anyone’s guess whether or not we’ll be able to do this in the near future – and that was too much uncertainty for me this time around.