The battle isn't just about proponents and opponents, but also just the battle of trying to understand these issues. I haven't seen an initiative yet that makes the language very clear. It is often so twisted that what you think you may be voting "yes" on, you really just voted "no" - - or vice versa.
Here are copies of the original initiatives filed (pdf):
Proponents of these initiatives feel that Washington state needs to get out of the liquor business. With the state out of the liquor business proponents of these initiatives feel the consumers will be provided with fair prices, more buying options and convenience.
Opponents of these initiatives feel that if passed, deregulation will cut over 1,000 union jobs across the state. They feel it will dismantle a system that generates over $300 million for important state and local services, besides increasing the availability of liquor to minors.
How could these initiatives affect the local wineries in the Walla Walla Valley, you ask? Here is a letter I received today.
Washington State has become the testing ground for a major new push by chain store retailers to test their political and economic clout by using the citizen’s initiative process. After losing their court battle to strip the Washington State Liquor Control Board of their mandate to regulate alcohol sales two years ago, Costco and other giant retailers are trying to circumvent this court decision by using the initiative process via Initiative I-1100.
Afraid of losing control of their own industry, distributors and manufacturers of hard liquor have also usurped the initiative process, and are promoting their own version of getting rid of the Washington State Liquor Control Board’s regulatory authority by introducing I-1105.
Both of these initiatives would allow any retailer of wine or beer to also sell hard liquor, increasing the potential number of hard liquor retailers to over 5,000, from the current 315. Yes, the current system probably results in liquor being more expensive than it would be if it was sold in gas stations and grocery stores, but a lot of the increased cost is due to taxes that the state uses to help cities and counties provide essential services. In this economy, does our state really need to lose that revenue? It would have to be made up by taxing something else, or giving up some of our already stretched public services. And why? So these huge retailers can increase their profits!
The other important issue that the promoters of these two initiatives don’t mention in their well-funded advertising, is that they both want to get rid of what is called “tied-house” rules. These rules prohibit manufacturers and distributors of alcohol from giving incentives (bribes) to retailers in order to influence their purchasing choices. These rules prevent large, wealthy companies like Gallo, Franzia, or Sutter Home, from offering free goods, free advertising, and paying for shelf space for their products at retailers like Costco, QFC, Safeway, Fred Meyer, etc. Small wineries and breweries without the money to compete, would lose sales. Eventually the consumer would only have the large, international brands to choose from as shelf space is auctioned off to the highest bidder.
For small, family owned wineries, breweries, and retailers, the tied house rules help level the playing field, making it possible for us to compete with the mega-companies. They are one reason why Washington consumers can proudly say that we have 700 wineries across the state that have some of the highest quality wine in the world.
We urge you to vote “NO” on I-1100 and I-1105. Both of these initiatives will harm Washington’s small wine and beer producers, causing many of them to close because they can’t compete with the bribes offered by huge international suppliers. The Washington State Liquor Control Board rules have been arrived at after more than 75 years of Post-Prohibition experience. I-1100 and I-1105 would get rid of them merely so that already huge companies could make even more money. Is that why we have the initiative process?
Thank you for taking the time to read this lengthy letter. These issues are not simple, but the bottom line is: Should we let the initiative process be used by big companies to help them get even bigger?
Debbie and Dave Hansen
“Mom” and “Pop” of Cougar Crest Estate Winery
Debbie later points out to me:
We certainly can’t count on getting all our information on the issues from the sponsors of the TV advertisements. Those ads only cover 1/8th of the issues involved and are certainly skewed toward the sponsors of the initiative. I contend there is a lot more at stake here than just the economics of the tax base. The issue of viability for companies that aren’t billion dollar, multi-national corporations, is also at stake. There are many small businesses and their employees at stake as well, not just the employees of the state liquor stores. Of the 700+ wineries in Washington, if you look at the smallest 690 of them, you will see they are very small businesses, certainly not able to compete financially with the big wine companies of the world that will be aggressively pursuing the Washington wine market if either one of these initiatives passes.
To me the main issue is this: There are some very large, wealthy retailers who want to become even larger and wealthier, and they have written and sponsored these initiatives in order to do so. They are stirring a tempest in a teapot in order to cover their main motives. Will we the people be able to see through the dustup in the teapot and say no, we don’t want our initiative process used to increase the profits of big corporations? We need to be questioning why do we need this initiative and who are the big beneficiaries? The difference in the taxes, where they come from and who pays them, is nothing compared to the extra profits to be made by these large corporations. Follow the money; who are the really big beneficiaries here???
My wine blogging peers, respectively, have given their opinions. John of Wine Peeps has been "agonizing and analyzing" while Sean of Washington Wine Report "boiled it down and boiled it down again." I would advise wine consuming readers to please read each blog and while you are reading, do take the time to check out what the Wine Spectator has to say about these issues, as well. Last, but not least, the Seattle Times says, "Yes" and the Seattle PI says, "No." (Note: it is important to have just one glass of wine, not two, while reading these opinions so that you don't get even more confused.)