PORTLAND – A collection of grocery store interests is leading a push to drive government out of the liquor business, a move Oregon’s liquor commission says would threaten the state’s financial stability by delaying revenue collection.
Battle lines are forming along a traditional labor-business divide, with a twist.
Large private industry sees a pot of money guarded by an outmoded post-Prohibition-era bureaucracy; public-sector unions are concerned privatization would eliminate about 100 government jobs. Liquor wholesale distributors who stand to lose money are also likely to oppose privatization.
But another group could join the fray: Oregon’s craft distillers. At least one of these small businesses saw its revenues tank when neighboring Washington state privatized liquor on a grocery store-funded ballot measure last year.
The political group Oregonians for Competition filed five initiative petitions with the state on behalf of the Northwest Grocery Association, which represents large grocery chains such as Fred Meyer and Safeway.
The initiatives differ modestly in specifics, but all would allow liquor sales in stores that already sell beer and wine and are at least 10,000 square feet. Existing liquor stores would be allowed to stay open, and some smaller shops like wine specialty stores would be able to sell liquor.
The group’s spokesman said Thursday that privatizing liquor would be more convenient to purchasers than the present system without endangering state finances or raising the price of liquor.
Most of the Northwest has state-run liquor stores, except Washington state, where voters in 2011 approved the sale of liquor in grocery stores, along with other larger retailers. The price of liquor originally jumped, but moderated and is now slightly higher than it was before privatization.
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