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Originally published Wednesday, June 15, 2011 at 4:23 PM

Gov. Gregoire should make no liquor commitment until after I-1183 is on ballot

The Seattle Times editorial board says Gov. Chris Gregoire should not have signed the bill to put the state's wholesale liquor operation out for private bid, and that she should make no commitments under it until the people of Washington can vote on Initiative 1183.

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YESTERDAY Gov. Chris Gregoire signed the bill that asks for private investors to bid for the state's wholesale liquor operation — a bid that, if accepted, would create a private monopoly as the sole supplier to the state liquor stores.

The bill was sponsored by a former beer distributor, Sen. Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla. It is presented as partial privatization of the state liquor monopoly. Its real effect would be to make a true competitive system impossible for the term of the monopoly contract, probably 20 years.

"The bill commits Washington state to nothing," Gregoire said as she signed it. It allows the state to say no to all bids. But it would not have been passed without the expectation of saying yes to one of them.

The new law has an emergency clause, which falsely declares that leasing out the state's wholesale liquor monopoly is "necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health or safety" or "support of the state government and its existing public institutions."

But the state budget has already been passed, and the bill is not necessary for any of that. The false emergency clause was put on to forestall a citizen referendum and to allow the state to rush into a contract before the people can vote on a better plan.

That plan is Initiative 1183. It would continue liquor as a moneymaker for the state while getting the state out of the business of selling it. It is backed by the Washington Restaurant Association, the Northwest Grocery Association and Costco, and is likely to be on the ballot in November.

The people of Washington deserve a choice on the question of who sells liquor here. Gregoire's administration should postpone any final commitment under the new law until after the November election, to see how the people vote on Initiative 1183.




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