Originally published Thursday, October 20, 2011 at 3:26 PM

FACT CHECK: Initiative ads mislead voters

This year's ballot measures have drawn millions of dollars to flood Washington state televisions with ads, and an effort to privatize state liquor sales is now the most expensive initiative campaign in state history.

Associated Press

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OLYMPIA, Wash. —

This year's ballot measures have drawn millions of dollars to flood Washington state televisions with ads, and an effort to privatize state liquor sales is now the most expensive initiative campaign in state history.

Along the way, the campaigns have stretched and exaggerated the truth about the plans and their implications. Here's a look at some of the advertising claims and how they stand up to the facts:


- THE CLAIM: An advertisement opposing the liquor privatization initiative claims that it "expands hard liquor sales to almost 1,000 minimarts, dramatically increasing teen access to liquor, leading to more senseless deaths." An ad supporting the measure claims just the opposite, saying it "prevents liquor sales at gas stations, mini marts and convenience stores."

- THE FACTS: Both campaigns are making exaggerated conclusions about an uncertain area of Initiative 1183. The initiative largely limits liquor sales to stores of more than 10,000 square feet, but the measure includes a caveat that says the liquor control board shall not deny a retail license to proper businesses if "there is no retail spirits license holder in the trade area." The term "trade area" is not explicitly defined, leaving that to the liquor board or the courts to eventually decide.

The anti-1183 campaign came up with its own definition of "trade area" - one mile in urban areas and five miles in rural ones - and contends that it would allow some 929 small retail outlets to sell liquor. Initiative supporters believe trade areas are typically much larger, with some stores covering a territory of 40 miles, and they believe the liquor control board and local governments will be careful in determining who can have a license to sell liquor.


- THE CLAIM: A Longview restaurant owner says in an anti-1183 ad that the measure would add a "brand-new 27 percent tax" and implies that it could force the shutdown of her business.

- THE FACTS: What the ad fails to mention is that the 27 percent in fees (technically not taxes) would essentially replace the 52 percent markup that the state currently puts on liquor that it sells. Part of the fees would be paid by liquor distributors and part would be paid by retailers.

The Washington Restaurant Association has endorsed the initiative and believes it will help store owners get liquor more easily and at a better price.


- THE CLAIM: A pro-1183 ad says the measure "reduces costs for taxpayers, consumers and restaurants."

- THE FACTS: It's not clear yet whether consumers are going to get a discount on liquor. Supporters of the initiative believe competition will push prices down, but the state projects that it could be higher.

It all depends on how much distributors and retailers mark up their prices. The state projects that a low-end markup combining both distributors and retailers would be about 25 percent, in addition to the 27 percent in fees that the distributors and retailers will pay. That would put prices almost on par with current ones.

The state also estimates that markups could go as high as 45 percent, pushing prices to new highs. Supporters of the initiative believe those markups are unrealistic because of competition.

The initiative would also allow retailers to buy directly from distilleries and bypass distributors, which could help push prices down.


- THE CLAIM: An advertisement in opposition of Tim Eyman's initiative on tolling tells viewers that it would lead to "higher tolls and higher gas taxes."

- THE FACTS: The bill doesn't do that directly. The measure would force the Legislature to approve tolls, and the state believes that would make it virtually impossible to sell toll-backed bonds that are part of the funding plans for projects such as the 520 bridge replacement.

Because of that, opponents of the measure say the state would have to resort to higher tolls and higher gas taxes to continue pursuing the major projects it has in the pipeline. But Eyman believes the new rules could save taxpayers money by forcing the state to abandon toll-backed bonds, which are already more risky for investors and come with an interest rate higher than the state's typical bonds that are first backed by tolls, then by gas taxes and then by a general pledge of the state.


Mike Baker can be reached at

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