The Spokesman-Review


Smart Bombs: Price of ignorance goes up

The prices for many brands of hard liquor have gone up as a result of Initiative 1183, which closed state-run stores. Some shoppers are acting as if they’ve been scammed, but why they thought prices would plunge is beyond me. Then again, I’m among the dwindling number of people who regularly read a newspaper (full disclosure: I work at one).

So who are these alleged flimflam artists who gave us higher booze prices? Well, that would be voters, by a really wide margin. Not much recourse there. Can’t recall them. Can’t even rescind their registration.

I-1183 carried no provisions for lower prices. The taxes and fees tacked on at the cash register were spelled out in the initiative and explained in newspapers. From an Aug. 17 article in The Spokesman-Review: “Initiative 1183 … could increase state revenues between $216 million and $253 million over the next six years, depending on the ‘markup,’ or increase, between the wholesale cost and the retail price. Local governments could see a total increase in revenue between $187 million and $227 million.”

As for the resulting prices, “There is a wide range of potential impacts,” the Office of Financial Management was quoted as stating in the same article. Perhaps people heard suggestions of lower prices elsewhere, like campaign ads. Or, maybe they chose to believe a friend or a viral email.

That’s not to say everyone is angry. This retailer quoted by the Associated Press is pleased: “We got hit pretty hard this weekend. In a good way. I’m not complaining one bit.” Then again, she’s positioned across the Columbia River in The Dalles, Ore. It seems a bunch of Washingtonians have decided to “celebrate” privatized liquor sales by buying it in another state. So much for greater convenience.

An Oregon Liquor Control Commission analysis of this changeover shows that 17 border stores could see a $3.6 million to $7 million boost in sales over the first two years. Oregon has no sales tax. But since Washington has no income tax, booze buyers must have plenty of money left over to gas up and head across the border.

The same AP article quoted a Washingtonian who supported privatization, “until I found out the tax was added on – a big one.” She could’ve found out by reading the initiative, or, you know, a newspaper, but I suppose that would’ve ruined the surprise.

If nothing else, this episode has one lasting lesson: Ignorance isn’t always bliss.

Thanks for nothing. State Rep. Gerry Pollett of Seattle says he may propose a bill mandating that the full price of liquor, including taxes, be posted on bottles. This would shift the point of outrage from cash registers to the aisles, which I’m sure many clerks would appreciate. There’s nothing stopping store owners from doing this now, but a government requirement would remove them from the decision-making process, all in the name of privatization.

Before I-1183 passed, the state’s markup was included in the shelf price. Pollet’s idea would be a return to that practice. If lawmakers really wanted to be helpful, they would’ve tackled this issue before it became a widely misunderstood initiative.

Foolproof. Here’s my sure-fire plan to get liquor taxes slashed: Have booze reclassified as soda pop. If recent history is any guide, voters will take it from there, even if it hurts education.

Atonement. The Idaho flap over Five Wives Vodka is a puzzler. A state bureaucrat initially wouldn’t allow it to be sold and then said it could be purchased via special orders. His concern is that the name and label would be offensive to Mormons, because it is a reference to polygamy.

The vodka is made and sold in Utah, which is home to a fair number of Latter-day Saints. Plus, the church banned plural marriages, so why would its members feel targeted? Sure, it’s a part of their history, but they redeemed themselves.

If a vodka was named Witch Hunt, would that be offensive to Protestants?

Associate Editor Gary Crooks can be reached at or (509) 459-5026. Follow him on Twitter: @GaryCrooks.

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