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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Initiatives would close Washington state liquor stores

Two measures privatizing spirits sales likely to go on Nov. 2 ballot

OLYMPIA – Washington state’s continued control of liquor sales may be in doubt.

Sponsors of one ballot measure to turn the sale of all liquor over to private stores, Initiative 1100, say they will turn in nearly 350,000 signatures today, a number that practically guarantees the proposal will be on the Nov. 2 ballot.

The campaign manager for a separate measure to privatize liquor sales, Initiative 1105, says it too expects to have more than enough signatures to turn in by July 2, raising the prospect of two competing plans for voters to sort out this fall.

Getting the state out of the liquor business, which it has been in since 1933 when Prohibition ended, has been a familiar refrain in the Legislature for decades; it has been studied and debated, but never approved. With the state facing a major shortfall this year and pressure to reduce state employees and expenses, several plans again surfaced, but none passed.

In the two months since the Legislature concluded, however, corporate sponsors have poured more than $1.5 million into the campaigns for the two liquor initiatives.

I-1100 is fueled mostly by money from Costco, which also allowed signatures to be gathered in its stores. Between cash donations and in-kind contributions, the membership retail giant has given $842,000 to the campaign. On Tuesday, campaign officials told the Secretary of State they plan to turn in some 347,000 signatures at lunchtime today.

I-1105 is funded thus far by two other companies, Young’s Market Co. and Odom Southern Holding, which have wholesale distribution or warehouse operations handling wine and beer. Young’s has contributed $530,000 and Odom $334,000.

The campaign got a late start on gathering signatures because the petition wasn’t filed until May 7, and a judge didn’t rule on a challenge to the ballot wording until June 9. I-1100 was filed April 16, and got its final ballot language May 20.

I-1105 campaign manager Charla Neuman said Tuesday her group was certain to turn in petitions; she just didn’t know when. “Our first goal is to make sure we have enough signatures, above and beyond the requirements.”

The two initiatives have similarly worded ballot titles, each starting with an explanation that it’s a proposal to “close all state liquor stores.” But there are significant differences, which help explain why I-1100, considered more beneficial to retail operations, is backed by Costco and the Northwest Grocery Association, while I-1105 is backed by wholesalers.

Among those differences: I-1100 allows retailers to go directly to manufacturers to get their supplies, while I-1105 requires they go through distributors; I-1105 charges retailers for licenses based on the amount of liquor they sell, while I-1100 has the same fee for all retailers; I-1100 essentially takes the state Liquor Control Board out of the sale and distribution and lets local governments decide how many stores to license, but under I-1105, the board retains some authority to license retailers.

Neuman agreed there is a risk voters will be confused by the two initiatives. “We’re all going into uncharted territory together,” she said.

Two other initiative campaigns say they also will turn in signatures by the July 2 deadline. The Building Industry Association of Washington told the Secretary of State it has more than 300,000 signatures on I-1082, a proposal to add private carriers to the state’s system of workers’ compensation plans. Sponsors of I-1107, a proposal funded by more than $1.5 million from the American Beverage Association to repeal recent taxes on candy, soda, bottled water and some processed foods, report they expect to have 340,000 signatures by July 2.

All four campaigns are paying to gather signatures.