Privatizing Liquor

Monica Spain / KPLU

You won’t hear the gavel sound at this auction. But you may want to pay attention anyway since the fate of your neighborhood liquor store may figure in. The Washington State Liquor Control Board has  opened an online auction as part of the next step toward liquor privatization.

The Associated Press

A judge’s ruling on Friday has thrown the privatization of liquor sales in Washington into question and landed the state’s craft distillers in a state of limbo.

A Cowlitz County judge on Friday upheld most of an initiative that requires the state to get out of the liquor business, but called for a trial to determine whether a provision for public safety funding violated rules for initiatives to address only one subject.

Washington bars and restaurants will be allowed to buy liquor directly from distilleries beginning Thursday.

The change stems from a voter-approved initiative to privatize liquor sales and dismantle Washington's state-run liquor system, which was formed in the 1930s in the aftermath of Prohibition.

Washington House Democrats are considering a plan to lease the state's liquor distribution system for $300 million cash up front. But it wouldn't come cheap.

Initially, the deal could cost the state 80 percent of what it currently collects from the wholesale distribution of booze. That's according to a memo marked "highly confidential." It comes from a newly formed company called Washington Beverage and outlines a proposal to take over from the state the distribution of hard liquor throughout Washington.

Elaine Thompson / AP Photo

Voters defeated not one, but two liquor privatization measures last fall -- one of them sponsored by Costco. But a key lawmaker says that's not stopping the Issaquah warehouse chain from continuing to push the issue in Olympia.

The latest count of election ballots show both propositions to get Washington state out of the liquor business have failed. But the issue is not going away. A new privatization proposal has surfaced in Olympia on the heels of those defeats.

A state senator from Mason County says he wants to take another run at ending Washington state's monopoly on liquor distribution and sales. Democrat Tim Sheldon claims the election defeat of both liquor initiatives was not a vote for the status quo.