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OLYMPIA – For a political reporter, state initiatives have become gifts that just keep on giving.
There have always been plenty of unusual ideas for ballot measures that crop up every spring, sort of like dandelions in the political lawn, and knock-down campaign battles over the few that collect enough signatures to make the ballot.
Some measures manage to remain controversial long after voters approve or reject them. . .
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Majority Coalition members watch vote count on liquor sales bill. It passed 26-23.
OLYMPIA — In a fight over fixing problems with an initiative that got the state out of the liquor business, the Senate tried to make it cheaper for restaurants and bars to restock from local stores.
After much talk about the proper way to "level the playing field" and not "pick winners and losers", the Senate voted 26-23 to allow restaurants and bars to buy liquor from retail outlets without paying the 17 percent tax that other consumers pay. It was an expansion of a law passed last year that allowed them to avoid the tax by buying from the old "contract" stores the state had before Initiative 1183 ended the state's monopoly on wholesale and retail liquor sales.
Some senators wanted to remove the tax for all purchases, arguing the state should not pick winners and losers with its liquor tax policies, but an amendment to do that failed on a 21-28 vote. Others said they should only even out the laws for different retailers, not giving some stores an advantage in selling to bars and restaurants who need to restock certain items between deliveries by distributors.
SB 6220 now goes to the House, which must pass it in its current form before next Thursday or send any changes back to the Senate.
OLYMPIA — After dropping during the first month of private liquor sales, the amount of liquor sold and the taxes the state got for it went up in July.
The state Revenue Department said sales were up about 15 percent this July compared with July 2011, and sales for the second quarter of this year are up about 11 percent over last.
Liquor sales took a big jump in May as the deadline imposed by Initiative 1183 for switching from the state monopoly to private sales approached. Bars and restaurants in particular stocked up against the coming change.
Sales dropped about 9 percent in June, the first month the law took effect, compared to the previous June.
In all, Washington consumers bought 10.6 million liters of spirits for the second quarter, an increase of about 1.2 million liters. (For folks who don't do "metric", that's about 2.8 million gallons total and an increase of about 317,000 gallons.)
The state also collected $68 million in taxes and fees on liquor, an increase of about 15 percent. Prices were higher in July than in pre I-1183 days, but they did come down sligthly from June.
It's too soon to tell what kind of trend we're developing, the Revenue Department said.
Washington voters probably didn’t intend it, but they gave at least a temporary economic boost to Idaho liquor stores when taking their state out the booze business last year by passing Initiative 1183.
In June, the first month that I-1183 closed Washington’s state-owned liquor stores and raised the overall price of distilled spirits in the private outlets that took their place, Idaho state liquor stores just across the border saw more Evergreen State license plates in their parking lots and a jump in business.
The two Post Falls liquor stores saw a 58 percent increase in sales for June 2012 compared to the previous June, said Jeff Anderson, director of the Idaho State Liquor Division. Between Lewiston and Oldtown, the eight Idaho liquor stores just across the border are up 33 percent overall, or a total of $560,000.
“The numbers are a bit skewed,” Anderson said . . .
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OLYMPIA — The state Supreme Court upheld Initiative 1183, a.k.a. get the state out of the booze business, on a 5-4 vote. (Here's a link to today's story.)
Or maybe it's better described a 5-3-1 vote, because Justice Tom Chambers disagreed with the majority on some points, but agreed with them on others.
For those who were worried that the court was going to throw a monkey wrench in plans to rush to your favorite discount store and stock up on cheap booze, here's the reason why the changeover to private liquor stores will proceed on schedule:
Justice Steven Gonzalez's majority opinion, signed by Chief Justice Barbara Madsen and Justices Susan Owens, James Johnson and Debra Stephens, can be found here.
Justice Charlie Wiggins' dissent, signed by Justices Charles Johnson and Mary Fairhurst, can be found here.
Justice Chambers' half and half, where he agrees that voters might've been hoodwinked by calling taxes fees, but agrees with the majority on some other things, can be found here.
As always, feel free to comment on what you think about I-1183, or the court's decision, by clicking here.
Wednesday's major SR business story is the summary of the variety of retailers (90 and counting) planning to sell booze come June 1, when I-1183 takes effect.
Here's an online map, tooled by the SR's Mike Tigas, that displays those 90 stores: http://data.spokesman.com/i1183-transition/liquor-retailer-licensees/
Also worth checking is the state list of all applicants to date, at http://liq.wa.gov/records/frequently-requested-lists and click on the link for "off-premises licensees." Note, that list includes applicants for both beer/wine and for spirits. You would need to sort the full list to see just the spirits applications.
Brian Smith, of the state liquor board, said the agency has been "working overtime" to add new names to the list. That list should be new every Monday, Smith said.
Good luck finding a store that DOESN'T sell liquor in June.
OLYMPIA — A union that represents some of the workers who will lose their jobs at state liquor stores is suing to block Initiative 1183, which will begin dismantling the state control of liquor sales next year.
The United Food and Commercial Workers Local 21 sued today in King County, saying I-1183 violates a state requirement that an initiative have only one subject. The ballot measure had more than that, the union contends: privatizing the state liquor system, changing laws for selling and distributing wine, changing the ability of the Liquor Control Board to regulate alcohol advertising; and creating new franchise protections for spirits distributors.
The union contends the initiative's sponsor, Costco, focused on the issue of privatizing the state system with its record advertising campaign and avoided the other points, which are designed to benefit the retail giant.
Costco may have spent the big bucks to get the initiative passed, but state taxpayers will pay the cost of defending it.
State law says the Attorney General's office defends an initiative the voters approve. Dan Sytman, a spokesman for Attorney General Rob McKenna, said the office "will vigorously defend this initiative" like other state laws.
One angle of Initiative 1183 that has not been the subject of millions of dollars worth of commercials for and against is choice – as in will my choice of liquor be better or worse if the measure passes?
With campaigns arguing over whether people will or won’t drink significantly more liquor, get into significantly more traffic accidents and have significantly more problems with alcohol abuse, it’s probably not surprising that neither side has the campaign equivalent of “Dos Equis Guy” saying “I don’t always drink single malt 20-year-old scotch, but when I do, I like shopping at Washington State liquor stores.”
But selection is likely to change, at least initially…
OLYMPIA – Led by a multi-million dollar battle for who controls liquor sales in Washington, initiatives and candidates on the Nov. 8 ballot have spent more than $18 million on trying to sway voters in the last three weeks.
This may come as no surprise to state residents who can’t turn on the television without seeing firefighters argue whether voters’ lives will be better or worse if state-run liquor stores go the way of the Model T. Other state initiative campaigns have their own TV messages, and campaigns big and small are filling mail boxes with slick mailers.
Campaigns were required this week to report all spending through Tuesday to the State Public Disclosure Commission. While more money will be spent by some campaigns that remain flush with cash, that won’t be reported until Dec. 12, when most bills are paid and many campaigns tally their final account.
Tuesday’s deadline covers some of the most intense spending of any campaign season…
OLYMPIA – In an effort to get voters to end the state's liquor monopoly, Costco this week made the largest contribution in history – nearly $9 million – to a state ballot campaign.
The discount retail giant based in Issaquah, Wash., nearly doubled down on its contributions this year to the Yes on Initiative 1183 campaign, on which it had already spent more than $12 million through cash contributions and in-kind services such as employee time for gathering signatures in less than a month to get the proposal on the Nov. 8 ballot…
The campaigns for and against the get-the-state-out-of-the-booze-biz initiative seem in a competition for “first responders” willing to endorse their stance.
It started with the ad by Protect Our Communities, the official name of the No on I-1183 committee, which enlisted a county sheriff, a city police chief and a pair of firefighters to denounce the proposal…
OLYMPIA — The Association of Washington Business, which is occupies the role of the state's chamber of commerce, likes the ballot measure to turn the state's liquor business over to private business.
It doesn't like the ballot measure to restrict tolling policies on roads and bridges. Nor does it like a measure to require extra training and background checks for long-term care workers.
At its "policy summit" meeting in Suncadia — that's a lodge on the eastern slope of the Cascades near Cle Elum — the AWB decided to come out in favor of I-1183, which would end the state monopoly on wholesale and retail liquor operations. Better than previous attempts, the group says, by keeping sales out of convenience stores in cities and bringing in more revenue for the state."
It doesn't like I-1163, which applies to health workers. Too expensive at a time when the state's budget is "$2 billion in the hole" and can least afford it.(Technically, the budget isn't $2 billion in the hole. The gap between projected revenue and scheduled expenses is $1.4 billion, or $1.27 billion if the state were to blow through its reserves in an effort to head off red ink. Gov. Chris Gregoire is asking the Legislature to come back starting Nov. 28 to cut $2 billion because by then the revenue projections may be worse and the state really needs to have reserves. But $2 billion probably is easier to remember.)
And it's against I-1125, which would restrict the use of tolls to the roads or bridges where they are levied, ban variable tolls for different times or days, and require tolls be set by the Legislature. It would jeopardize some big projects and cause "more delays and traffic headaches for Washington drivers," the group said.
OLYMPIA — For those who are Jonesing for some campaign-style polling, a Seattle political consulting firm is trying to supply a fix.
It has a new poll of 500 voters that suggest if the election were held today, Republican Rob McKenna would beat Democrat Jay Inslee for governor. And President Barack Obama would beat either of the two current GOP frontrunners, Rick Perry or Mitt Romney, for president in Washington state.
Two initiatives on this November's ballot would also pass, according to the Strategies 360 poll.
But there are some caveats and some details beneath the surface of the raw numbers, Kevin Ingham, the firm's vice president for polling, explained Monday morning in the big rollout of the numbers.
OLYMPIA – This year’s ballot measure to get state government out of the liquor business is shaping up as another multi-million dollar fight that will pit one of Washington’s largest discount retailers against alcohol wholesalers.
Also taking sides are the state’s grocery stores, with some big national chains like Safeway backing the proposal and some regional chains like Rosauer’s working against it.
OLYMPIA – Washington would collect more revenue if an initiative to privatize liquor sales passes, but could pay more for road projects if another ballot measure on toll roads succeeds.
That's the best estimate of the Office of Financial Management, which recently released its analyses of the three measures headed for the Nov. 8 ballot…
To read more about the analyses, and for links to the reports, click here to go inside the blog.
OLYMPIA — We may have to stop calling Initiative 1183, the ballot measure that would get the state out of the wholesale land retail liquor business, "The Costco Initiative."
The proposal now has another source of funding: Trader Joe's.
Costco is by far and away the biggest source of cash for I-1183, and this will be the discount giant's second attempt to change state liquor laws in a way that would allow it to sell and possibly distribute liquor in its stores.
Costco has put roughly $1,082637.40 in cash into the campaign. And that doesn't count more than $1.2 million it chalked up through in-kind contributions for things like employees who were paid for their time manning the signature gathering tables in the stores or the national petition gathering firm it hired on the way to setting a record for the fastest qualifying signature campaign in state historyo.
Late last month, Trader Joe's tossed $50,000 into the pot. So as of July 26, it became the 98 percent Costco initiative. The date May 26 on the PDC form, is wrong, but of course we all figured that because no one would let a check for 50K sit around for two months before taking it to the bank.
So what does this mean? Maybe if I-1183 passes, Washington residents won't have to pay a fee and join Costco to get a really good deal on booze.