YAKIMA -- Advocates of this year's initiative to privatize liquor sales argue that it is different than previous measures shot down by voters.
Opponents say otherwise.
"Two similar measures failed last year, and here we are again," said Alex Fryer, spokesman for the anti-Initiative 1183 campaign, Protect Our Communities.
Not so, counters Yes on 1183 spokeswoman Kathryn Stenger, who says it would lower liquor sale markups from 52 percent to 27 percent, thereby benefiting small businesses, and would increase the amount of tax revenue that goes to state and local governments.
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The two sides faced off Wednesday before the Yakima Herald-Republic editorial board, trading talking points and trying their hardest to contradict each other's argument.
Stenger said the initiative would put aside $10 million for the state to use to improve public safety.
"There's a conflict of interest in the state selling alcohol and trying to enforce the law," Stenger said.
But Fryer and Sunnyside City Councilwoman Theresa Hancock, who operates a convenience store that sells alcohol, said the conflict of interest rests with the influence of the large retailers donating millions to promote the initiative. Hancock said the initiative, if passed, would hurt small businesses like hers by limiting the availability of certain brands and driving up the price charged to consumers.
"I won't be on the same playing field," Hancock said.
Stenger repeatedly shot back at the opposition as they made their points, saying statements like Hancock's were part of an effort to spread misinformation.
She said removing the state monopoly on liquor sales could only benefit consumers, restaurants and retail.
"It's ridiculous to think that competition won't create downward pressure on the price," Stenger said.
Paul Beveridge, a winemaker for Wilridge Winery in Seattle and advocate for I-1183, said the initiative would reform the state's sales and distribution laws for wine and benefit the countless wineries that have sprung up around the state.
Hancock and Fryer maintained that the initiative raises more questions than solutions. Aside from the undefined uses of the $10 million for public safety, they also call out a provision for the Liquor Control Board not to deny a store a liquor license if there is no other seller in the "trade area" but does not outline what the boundaries would be.
"They can't define what the trade area is," Fryer said.
The initiative bans gas stations and small convenience stores from selling liquor, though smaller stores that currently have contracts to do so would be grandfathered in. It doubles penalties for selling liquor to minors and calls for more staff training and supervision over alcohol sales.
Hancock took issue with the ban, calling it a testament to the interests of large stores, such as Costco, that prevents small businesses from getting a share of the market.
"It's weighted toward big box stores," she said.
The state spends about $100 million a year on managing the sale of liquor, but Stenger cited an Office of Fiscal Management report saying privatization would save the state that cost as well as generate more than $400 million in revenue in the next six years.