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Otter on liquor privatization: ‘Not as long as I’m governor’

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter addresses the Idaho Licensed Beverage Association on Tuesday (Betsy Russell)
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter addresses the Idaho Licensed Beverage Association on Tuesday (Betsy Russell)

It seemed fitting that when Gov. Butch Otter spoke to the annual convention of the Idaho Licensed Beverage Association yesterday, the meeting was in the “Characters” lounge at the Red Lion Downtowner hotel. The first question the group had for the governor: Whether he’d support privatizing liquor sales in Idaho, as Washington did – the first state with state-controlled liquor sales to move to a privatized system. Otter talked about how Idaho liquor stores have profited from cross-border sales since Washington’s move, because of price differences as that state saw liquor prices rise. “Some of these other states … are dealing themselves a bad hand because they try hard to be progressive,” Otter said. “Not as long as I’m governor – that ain’t gonna change.” His comment drew a quick burst of applause and laughter from the group, which represents bar operators.

The association opposes privatization; its official stance, from its website: “ILBA opposes privatization.  We believe that the quota system is a system that works for Idaho and we find it unnecessary to have liquor on shelves in grocery stores where it would be easily accessible to children.”

There was less agreement on some of the other issues on which the group queried the guv. When one member asked why the state didn’t order counties to charge uniform property taxes, Otter responded, “That’s not going to work.” He noted that Idaho counties have widely varying property values, and thus raise different amounts from their property tax levies. “I’m not one that’s going to tell every county, all 44 counties, you oughta charge the same amount,” he said. “That’s up to the county commissioners.”

He also rejected a suggestion that Idaho should follow Oregon and Montana in allowing video poker in its bars; and had no answer on how to help holders of highly valued state liquor licenses retain their value. Otter noted that he proposed reforms to the liquor license system several years ago, but they were rejected. “You didn’t like the answer I had then, so you guys figure it out,” he said. “Somebody’s got to come up with an idea.”

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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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