In Our View: Booze Changes Continue

Workers at state liquor stores are making the transition

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Initiative 1183 Facts

■ I-1183 was approved on Nov. 8, 2011, by 58.7 percent of voters statewide and 58.3 percent in Clark County.

■ The measure allows stores larger than 10,000 square feet to sell liquor. Smaller stores also may be approved for liquor sales if there are no other outlets in the trade area.

■ Numerous attempts to privatize liquor sales and distribution in the state had failed. The difference last year likely was the provision in I-1183 that mandated a 10 percent distributor fee and 17 percent fee for retailers, with the money directed to compensate state and local governments that are losing the state’s liquor profits.

■ Many local officials worry that the mandate won’t be enough. They’re also concerned that the targeted revenue could be shifted by legislators in future years to other areas.

The number of state workers in Washington is dropping to its lowest point in a decade. About 104,800 workers are authorized in the new state budget, with 1,266 full-time positions to be trimmed by June. According to The Olympian newspaper, that’s down from a peak of 111,984 in 2007-2009.Whether that’s good or bad news (we say it’s a logical transformation during this extended economic crisis) is a subject for another editorial. Today, we applaud the largest single factor in that reduction of the state work force. The highest number of eliminated positions (902) is in the Washington State Liquor Control Board system. Such is the impact of Initiative 1183, which passed last fall and privatizes state liquor sales and distribution.

Liquor store and agency employees can read the writing on the wall; many are leaving their jobs in advance of the June 1 official transition to a privatized system. The News Tribune in Tacoma reports about 75 workers left the state liquor system between Jan. 1 and mid-March, and about 10 workers are leaving each week. We sympathize with anyone who loses a job, but in this case many are making the change on their own volition, proactively.

An undetermined number -- but many, according to The News Tribune -- are taking jobs in the emerging private-sector liquor industry. Costco, the largest contributor supporting I-1183, already is interviewing state liquor store employees. Other opportunities will no doubt appear elsewhere. Fred Meyer, Albertsons and Safeway are also expected to enter the liquor business.

Other liquor store workers are finding jobs elsewhere in state government. Times are especially tough in that sector, granted, but one woman in Olympia parlayed two-years’ experience as clerk at a state liquor store, plus previous experience in state agencies, into a job as office assistant with the Department of Labor and Industries.

Such a large change is causing inconveniences during the transition. Part-time replacements are being hired, but most people don’t want temporary jobs. Consolidation of state liquor stores will likely occur, and some stores will close before June 1.

But the ultimate goal is worth the inconvenience. Washington is joining more than 30 states that have privatized liquor sales and distribution. The state will appropriately continue to regulate liquor sales and enforce liquor laws, but it never made any sense for the state to monopolize the sale of liquor, especially with high markups.

As of June 1, the competitive free market will prevail, as it should.