Editorial: OLCC can’t say what will happen to booze prices

Published Jan 14, 2014 at 12:01AM

The chairman of the Oregon Liquor Control Commission said the other day that Oregonians are unlikely to see the price of booze drop much if they vote to privatize the sale of spirits in the state.

Rob Patridge is right as far as he goes — but his statement fails to take all sorts of factors into consideration.

The Northwest Grocery Association and others behind the effort to end the state’s complete control of spirits in the state know full well that liquor sales are the third-largest revenue source for the state. Money from those sales, some $396.7 million in the last biennium, went to the state’s general fund ($225.6 million), to cities ($70.1 million), to counties ($35 million) and to mental health services, including drug and alcohol programs, according to the Salem Statesman Journal newspaper.

Privatization’s supporters have no intention of changing that, says Pat McCormick, a spokesman for the effort. Their measures, which will be narrowed to a single one in the months ahead, will include taxes and fees designed specifically to keep government’s take at about what it is today.

That means, McCormick says, that the overall price of liquor in the state will, as Patridge claims, likely stay roughly the same.

But change will come.

Grocers, many of them, will be able to sell everything from beer to gin if the measure passes. With freedom to set their own prices, those who get into the booze business will be able to offer sales and to do such things as lower the prices on some items even as they raise the prices on others, just as they currently do with everything from butter to boullion cubes.

The state, meanwhile, will get out of the distribution business and close down its warehouse operations, which will be left to private industry.

In the end, no one can say with certainty what will happen to liquor prices if sales go private. Most likely, some prices will rise, while others fall, though no one can say by how much.