No on both: Privatizing liquor comes at a high price

By Mike Cooper and John Lovick

We know that some people in our community are angry about government. That feeling may be understandable, but it is not a good reason to make hard liquor dramatically more accessible to minors and to irresponsible drinkers. It is not a good reason to make the budget deficits for state and local governments caused by the current recession worse. And it is not a good reason to pass two deeply flawed initiatives — I-1100 and I-1105 — that both go too far.

Both 1100 and 1105 go way too far in deregulating sales of hard liquor. If either of these initiatives passes there will be an explosion of hard liquor stores in Washington, from the current 315 to more than 3350, according to an analysis by the state auditor. More than 2,000 gas station mini-marts, convenience stores, and neighborhood store will begin selling hard alcohol if these measures pass — and will sell it until 2 am.

That many stores in the market will lead to aggressive promotion, because there will no longer be any restrictions on alcohol advertising. Neon signs, grocery store advertising, reduced price coupons, and any other kind of in-your-face advertising you can imagine will likely become the norm.

One of the biggest myths about these measures is that they will reduce the price of hard liquor. It’s possible prices will be a little lower at big box stores, but liquor prices are likely to be higher than they are now at grocery stores and significantly higher than they are now at convenience stores and mini-marts. That is why the state auditor’s analysis found that liquor prices will actually rise under full privatization.

What is not a myth is that the explosion in the number of outlets selling hard liquor will cause a significant increase in consumption, even at higher prices. Every study done shows conclusively that consumption goes up whenever it becomes easier for people to get alcohol. And higher consumption results in more alcohol-related problems.

Washington State currently ranks first in the nation in keeping hard alcohol out of the hands of minors. State liquor stores have a compliance rate of 94 percent, according to liquor control board data, while convenience stores and mini-marts are four times more likely to sell alcohol to minors. Allowing kids easier access to hard liquor is a prescription for trouble — and tragedy.

The prospect for more drunks on the road is truly scary. According to statistics from the Centers on Disease Control, California has a significantly higher percentage of binge drinkers and problem drinkers. At California rates, that means 40,000 more problem drinkers in Washington, and it is these irresponsible drinkers that are the cause of many of our alcohol-related problems. We’ve seen firsthand the devastation caused by abuse of alcohol, and we can’t imagine any justification for making that abuse more likely.

The people pushing these initiatives say there won’t be any increase in drunk driving or in kids buying hard liquor, but the large body of scientific literature says otherwise. Are you willing to bet your teenager’s life on who is right?

These poorly written initiatives are designed to benefit their backers at the expense of Washington taxpayers. Both initiatives will cut funding for local governments that provide services like police and fire protection by about $50 million per year. And if both pass, state services will be cut by more than $100 million per year, money that currently pays for schools and health care. If 1100 or 1105 pass, we will either have to cut services or raise taxes — or both. The Snohomish County Sheriff’s office, and every other law enforcement agency in the state, will have more problems to deal with and fewer resources available to them.

Now is not the time to pass these risky measures. we ask you to join law enforcement officials, first responders, the Washington Association of Churches, the Washington Association of Substance Abuse and Violence Prevention and so many others in opposing 1100 and 1105. Vote NO on 1100 and 1105.

Mike Cooper is mayor of Edmonds. John Lovick is the Snohomish County sheriff.