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Is there money in getting out of the liquor biz? Maybe

Washington state could gain an extra $277 million over four years if it gets out of the liquor business, or lose $47 million, a state auditor’s review says.

Right now, the state controls the wholesale and retail liquor sales, with state employees operating the stores and distribution center, and is expected to make $2.36 billion between 2012 and 2016 under that system, Larisa Benton, director of performance audit, told the House Ways and Means Committee Monday.

If it turned the state distribution center and its state-owned stores over to private businesses and increased the number of stores, it could make between $163 million and $277 million over those four years. It could make less with other options, such as privatizing stores and letting the market to determine their number, but still generate extra revenue. But it would likely lose $47 million by just converting existing outlets to contract outlets.

Turning the liquor business over to the private sector, which would take the costs of those state workers off Washington’s strapped budget, is among the more popular options for helping the state’s projected shortfall of $2.6 billion. But Rep. Steve Conway, D-Tacoma, said he’s been in the Legislature 18 years, and the idea “has been here at least as long as I’ve been here.”

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About this blog

Jim Camden is a veteran political reporter for The Spokesman-Review.

Jonathan Brunt is an enterprise reporter for The Spokesman-Review.

Kip Hill is a general assignments reporter for The Spokesman-Review.

Nick Deshais covers Spokane City Hall for The Spokesman-Review.

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