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It’s Been One Year Since Liquor Sales Went Private

Inside a Supermarket As U.K. Consumer Confidence Falls
Simon Dawson/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Saturday is June first, and it marks one year since the liquor business in Washington was turned over from state-run stores to private retailers. When voters approved Initiative 1183 in 2011, many people thought that if it passed, liquor prices would go down. That has not been the case.

The voter approved privatization initiative has sent prices unexpectedly higher. Also, the government is collecting more tax revenue than anticipated. The state expects to collect around 37 percent more from liquor taxes and fees in this current fiscal year compared to the final year under state control. Instead of 329 state-run or contract stores, Washington now has more than 1,400 retailers selling liquor.  The Olympian reports total sales are up, an average of 2.7 million liters a month, compared to 2.5 million before privatization. The state Economic and Revenue Forecast Council projects that taxes and fees will generate $425 million for fiscal 2013, which wraps up at the end of June. That compares with $309 million in 2011.

Washington’s Department of Revenue estimated the average price for a single bottle of spirits was 7 percent higher this March than last March.  Chris Brown, owner of Market Fresh IGA in Yakima was against the initiative, but he say the privatization has been a benefit to his store. He said “I have mixed feelings on the new law, on one hand it’s been a headache because of the problem of theft, but on the other hands it’s provided better access to the customer, and it has helped boost sales for the stores.”  Brown says they’ve had no problems with underage kids trying to buy booze, but the problems have been 25 to 30 year old people loading up baskets with 8 to 10 bottles and then running out the store.

The prices are projected to drop next spring, when the fees for retailers and distributors will drop.

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