Gov. Chris Gregoire doesn’t seem so thrilled with the prospect of privatizing liquor sales in Washington. First of all, while proponents are attempting to use our current budget crisis as an argument for privatization, Gregoire rightly points out that the auditor’s report doesn’t show the state raising an additional dime in the short term. And second of all…
“This idea that we go the way of auctioning off, like West Virginia, let’s be clear, you’ll get rid of all your mom and pops,” she said. “You’ll have what they have, which is Rite Aid sells all liquor, is that what you want in Washington state? We contract out now, we contract out to mom and pops in rural areas. What does the auction get you, once every 10 years, possibly a couple hundred million dollars, if you sell high? Now, West Virginia, not that I’m very proud of this, doesn’t sell as much liquor as we do. So you’d better sell more to make up if you’re going to auction off, I’m not sure that’s good policy. You look at our minor consumption sales – we’re well below any state that has it privatized, by like 10 percent. You need to understand it doesn’t help you this biennium at all. Number two, does it really get you any money in the long haul, and number three what are the social policy issues that are implicated here and is that the right direction?”
Washington, like most state store states, not only has lower per capita liquor consumption than the national average, it also has a lower incidence of alcohol related social and health problems. The only way that privatization can significantly increase state revenues is by significantly increasing sales, and with it, the related social costs. So the revenue argument strikes me as awfully cynical.
But I also wonder if the recent interest in eliminating our state store system doesn’t have anything to do with recent legislative proposals to legalize marijuana and sell it through our state stores? We currently have all the infrastructure in place to buy, distribute and resell marijuana in a well-managed and well-controlled system. Dismantling this infrastructure would make it that much harder to implement legalization.