Proposal would stymie Costco's ability to sell liquor
Three lawmakers file a bill that targets Costco over big spending on last fall's liquor initiative.
Seattle Times business reporter
Three state representatives have proposed legislation aimed at making Costco Wholesale feel bad about devoting a record $22 million to get voter Initiative 1183, the liquor-privatization measure, passed last fall.
House Bill 2426 would prevent membership retailers like Issaquah-based Costco from selling liquor because "buying in bulk and in supersized packaging ... increases abusive consumption."
The main sponsor is Rep. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia, who did not return calls Friday.
Another sponsor, Rep. Sherry Appleton, D-Poulsbo, said she doubts the bill is going anywhere, but "sometimes people send messages."
"I love Costco. I've been a member for years and years and years," she said.
She also favors liquor privatization.
"But I think you have to have a fair playing field. That doesn't mean you spend all that money to make it pass when there were other ways. I think eventually the state would have privatized, but times are tough right now," Appleton said. "Let's get into positive territory, then let's look at these big changes."
She does not agree that I-1183 will bring more money to the state and local governments, as the state's Office of Financial Management estimated
So, what's the message to Costco if HB 2426 isn't going anywhere?
"Every once in a while, you have to send messages that you can't game the system, and if you're going to, there are going to be consequences," said Appleton, who agreed that it might be characterized as a slap on the wrist. "We're saying, this is the reality. We want you to think about what you've done."
Costco co-founder Jim Sinegal said before he retired Dec. 31 that the $19 million Costco spent on I-1183 — it got some of its original investment back — was worth it, and a victory for Washington consumers.
"There was no justification for that type of system — certainly no justification for the state being in the business of selling alcoholic beverages, and no justification for all the price fixing that was going on relative to the distribution — and the consumer was paying the price for that," Sinegal said.
"We think our customers expect us to take up the battle on those types of things. I think they expect us to be the consumers' friend; we consider ourselves the consumers' friend."
Whatever HB 2426's aim, Costco is not apologizing.
"If today was April 1st, this proposal would make a lot more sense," chief legal officer Joel Benoliel said in an email.
He pointed out that voters in Kitsap and Snohomish counties, where bill co-sponsors Appleton and Rep. John McCoy, D-Tulalip, are from, passed I-1183 by a wide margin, as did the state overall.
Only 53 percent of voters in Thurston County, where Hunt is from, approved it.
"We doubt that two-thirds of the legislators would be in favor of gutting a key provision of 1183 months after the voters overwhelmingly approved it," Benoliel wrote. "Since it is a direct attack on 1183, it would require a supermajority to pass this now."
Melissa Allison: 206-464-3312 or email@example.com. On Twitter @AllisonSeattle.