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State control of liquor sales to end in Washington

Washington voters have ended nearly 80 years of state-controlled liquor sales. As of Tuesday night, Initiative 1183 was passing with 60 percent of the vote. The measure privatizes the sale of booze and closes state liquor stores.

Costco contributed $22 million to get 1183 on the ballot and passed. But no company representatives showed at the campaign event in downtown Seattle. In fact it was a decidedly dry gathering – literally and figuratively. Bruce Beckett of the Washington Restaurant Association announced the win in understated fashion shortly after nine o’clock.

“It’s a clear victory for Washington taxpayers and consumers,” he said.

Size standards

With the passage of 1183, Washington state-run liquor stores will close by next June. In their place, grocery stores with more than 10-thousand square feet will be able to add hard liquor to their shelves. It remains to be seen how many smaller outlets will qualify to sell booze.

There's a provision in the measure that allows exceptions to the 10-thousand square foot rule in underserved areas. Campaign spokeswoman Kathryn Stenger did not want to speculate whether this victory could trigger similar privatization efforts in states like Oregon.

“I would imagine that other states might consider the benefits but we’re here tonight to talk about 1183 and what that means for Washington and I think it’s good news for our state to get the government out of the business of selling liquor so they can focus on enforcement," Stenger said.

900 losing jobs 

Opponents of the measure lamented the fact that about 900 state employees – who work in liquor stores and the state’s distribution warehouse – will now lose their jobs. Tom Geiger is with the union that represents those store workers. He lamented the money Costco spent to pass the measure.

“If you’re willing to put, in this case, more than $20 million bucks on the table to convince people to vote a certain way you may be able to succeed and that’s kind of scary,” Geiger said.

Opponents spent about half what Costco did. Most of that money came from out of state liquor wholesalers. In a statement, Governor Chris Gregoire says she remains concerned about unintended public safety risks as a result of the passage of this privatization measure.

Copyright 2011 Northwest News Network

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy as well as the Washington State legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia." Prior to joining the Northwest News Network, Austin worked as a television reporter in Seattle, Portland and Boise. Austin is a graduate of Garfield High School in Seattle and Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut. Austin’s reporting has been recognized with awards from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors, Public Radio News Directors Incorporated and the Society of Professional Journalists.