Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Time to let the consumers reign (for a change)

Fred Obee of the Port Townsend Leader makes what strikes us as a strange argument about Initiatives 1100 and 1105:
There may be good reasons to take down the state liquor store system, but I would feel a lot more comfortable with the idea if the proposal had been fashioned and vetted in the state Legislature. That way, we could have heard the testimony of wholesalers and small wine and beer producers. That way, we could have weighed the impact of revenue losses more carefully.

It’s not too late to have that conversation. All we have to do is vote no on both measures.

The Legislature created the state liquor store system in January 1934 and has spent the last 77 years maintaining that system. None of the several liquor privatization proposals fashioned by legislators last session were even vetted out of committee. To think that the Legislature would act differently any time soon seems less than realistic -- especially if both I-1100 and I-1105 are defeated by voters this fall. If voters defeat both measures, your typical legislator's reaction to any liquor privatization proposal for years to come would of course have to be "Well no, the voters said they didn't want that". 

Obee's main concern might be what he calls the "revenue losses". We reject the notion that the state's discontinuation of a retail business can fairly be called a "revenue loss", but it's not unreasonable for Obee to want the Legislature to preserve some or all of the liquor board's current surplus sales revenue. That surplus revenue is really a de facto liquor sales tax imposed by the Liquor Board. The Legislature can vote to fold the Liquor Board's sales tax into the proper statutory liquor tax any time it wants to, whether I-1100 passes or not.

Finally, we see no appeal in kicking this issue to the Legislature in order to hear the testimony of wholesalers and small wine and beer producers. The Legislature hears from their lobbyists all the time. We don't believe that economic regulations should be fashioned and vetted by business lobbyists to give advantages to their clients. Economic regulations should be enacted (or repealed, as in this case) to provide a free and fair marketplace for consumers, and by extension for the businesses who best serve the consumers. The Legislature has chosen not to take up the consumers' cause here. Now it's the voters' turn.

For voters who want a fair marketplace and for the liquor board to concentrate on protecting public health and safety, the only sure way to achieve that is to vote YES on 1100.

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