Washington voters are all but certain to be asked for a second year in a row to close all state liquor stores and let private companies sell booze.
The Initiative 1183 campaign hauled boxes of petitions into state elections headquarters this morning, saying they had signed more than 354,300 supporters in less than three weeks. Officials will count to make sure they have at least the 241,000 valid signatures needed for the November ballot.
Some 150,000 of the signatures came just from customers of Costco, which has carried the campaign on its back with $950,000 worth of contributions.
Voters rejected two ballot measures last year to privatize liquor. Advocates from industry say this year one’s different: A year after jumping on board with an initiative written by an advocate for their cause, this year businesses wrote their own measure, which addresses key complaints from last year:
- That privatization would lead to the sale of liquor in every gas station and 7-Eleven, increasing alcohol abuse and drunk driving. This year’s measure limits sales to big box outlets and other stores with at least 10,000 square feet of space, with some exceptions. It could still lead to a fivefold increase in the number of retail stores selling spirits, advocates estimate.
- That local governments would lose revenue. They would gain money under this initiative, industry promises. Advocates estimate $200 million up front for state and local governments from licensing fees and the sales of government stores and facilities, and “tens of millions” more every year.
- That beer distributors would lose their spot as a key middleman between manufacturers and retailers. Beer interests bankrolled last year’s campaign, determined to keep their legal status. I-1183 doesn’t touch them, its promoters say. So unions and other opponents will have to find funding elsewhere.
UPDATE 11:30 a.m.: Advocates expect about 1,500 stores would be eligible to apply for a license.