Lake Stevens Journal - Your hometown newspaper since 1960


By Don C Brunell
Pres. Assoc. Of Wa Business 

Voters Can Reset Government This Fall


July 13, 2010

The lame argument of this election year is if private stores like Costco are allowed to sell liquor, underage drinking will explode. According to opponents of privatizing liquor sales in Washington, only state-owned and run liquor stores can keep booze out of the hands of teens.

Give me a break! Any clerk or store owner — public or private — who sells beer, wine or cigarettes to a minor can be arrested. The law does not discriminate.

Apparently, this ridiculous “threat” is the best opponents to Initiative 1100 can come up with.

Initiative 1100 would get the state out of the liquor business. Currently, the state runs more than 160 liquor stores and contracts out an additional 155. According to Ken Oplinger, president of the Bellingham/Whatcom Chamber of Commerce, Washington state will spend more than $117 million this year marketing and selling alcohol. The initiative would close state liquor stores and allow private businesses in good standing that currently sell beer and wine to also sell liquor, and it would eliminate price controls and allow volume discounts. Currently, 42 other states allow privately owned liquor stores.

The rationale for I-1100 is simple: The state has no business being in the liquor business.

This year, state lawmakers approved $800 million in new taxes to help plug a $2.8 billion budget deficit. According to the state Office of Financial Management, the deficit next year will be even higher — $3 billion. Washington State Auditor Brian Sonntag estimates the state could gain an additional $350 million if it sold the state distribution center and auctioned licenses to private businesses.

With state government billions of dollars in the red, it’s time to prioritize state spending on only the most essential services. Few can argue with a straight face that selling Johnnie Walker Scotch is an essential role of state government.

Similar fear mongering surrounds Initiative 1082, which would allow private insurance companies to break the state’s monopoly on workers’ compensation insurance. Opponents call the initiative a “hostile takeover” of the state’s workers’ comp system, ignoring the fact that competition in other states has improved claims management for injured workers and lowered costs to workers and employers. In fact, Washington is one of only four states with a government monopoly that forbids private competition for workers’ compensation insurance.

While workers’ comp taxes are falling around the country, Washington employers and workers were hit with a $117 million tax hike for 2010 — the highest increase since 2003. By comparison, Oregon, which allows private competition, has not increased its rates in the last 20 years and returned $100 million to its employers this year.

Competition is the key. It can lower costs to taxpayers and create jobs in the private, taxpaying sector. As long as the private and public sectors can compete on a level playing field and everyone complies with the same set of rules and regulations, the private sector should be given a chance.

Government leaders across the country have their backs to the wall financially. It is time they acted on behalf of all taxpayers, not just the public employee unions. Taxpayers don’t have bottomless pockets.

Washington residents won’t stand for another $800 million tax increase if state lawmakers refuse to pare back government spending. Instead of battling to hold onto state monopolies on liquor sales and workers’ comp, the state should focus on public safety, education and assistance for the truly needy.

Just as the private sector has had to reinvent itself and do things differently, government must do the same.


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