Liquor initiative backers optimistic

Deadline for collecting signatures is 5 p.m. Friday

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OLYPMIA—As the submission deadline for citizen initiatives draws near, backers of an initiative to privatize liquor sales and distribution are confident in their campaign’s progress.

Mark Funk, the spokesman for “Yes on 1183,” would not say how many signatures in support of the initiative have been gathered so far, but he said he expects to get enough.

“We are optimistic that we are going to meet our goal,” Funk said.

The signature gatherers need 241,153 registered voter signatures by 5 p.m. Friday to get their measure on the ballot this fall.

Initiative campaigners typically aim to collect 320,000 signatures just to make sure they hit their mark, said David Ammons, the communications director for Secretary of State Sam Reed.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the Public Disclosure Commission reported that $957,021.65 has been raised statewide in support of the initiative.

“We have people working in all the major population centers throughout the state,” Funk said. “We have waged a pretty aggressive campaign.”

More than $950,000 of that came from King County. The rest came from Thurston County.

Initiative 1183 is the latest concerted attempt to entirely remove state government from selling and distributing liquor in Washington. Several groups including Costco Wholesale Corp., the Northwest Grocery Association, the Washington Restaurant Association and the Washington Retail Association have banded together to promote it.

The measure would allow privately owned stores with at least 10,000 square feet of retail space to sell and distribute liquor. Gas stations and small convenience stores would still be prohibited from liquor sales. Regulation of sales and enforcement of liquor laws would remain in the hands of the Liquor Control Board.

“We believe the system we set up will be more efficient,” Funk said.

Supporters estimate the initiative would bring in $200 million in additional revenue for state and local governments in its first two years due to a requirement that businesses with licenses to sell liquor pay a certain percentage of their revenue to the state. They also say it will generate tens of millions more in revenue for following years.

So far, opposition in King County has raised $15,000 against Initiative 1183, according to the Public Disclosure Commission.

A group named Protect Our Communities will campaign against the measure. State reports show the campaign has not raised any funds yet.

Voters rejected two privatization predecessors to the initiative last fall. About 65 percent of them turned down Initiative 1105, and 53 percent voted against Initiative 1100, which was backed by Costco Wholesale Corp. Each initiative would have closed state liquor stores and redirected liquor sales to private businesses.

Initiative 1105 required licensed liquor sellers to give a portion of their gross liquor sales for the first five years in operation to the state. It would also have done away with certain liquor sales taxes and called upon the Liquor Control Board to recommend revised taxes for liquor distributors.

Opponents argued that the measures would strip millions of dollars in tax revenue from state and local governments. They also voiced concerns that the initiatives would spur an increase in drunken driving throughout the state and make it easier for minors to illegally purchase alcohol.