We hope the day comes when Oregonians can buy liquor in grocery stores just as they can beer, milk and broccoli.
But the initiative that could appear on the November ballot to privatize liquor sales does some things it should not. The Oregon Supreme Court just approved the ballot title.
Basically, the initiative does some good things. It would allow qualified retail stores to sell liquor. The state would get out of the liquor sale and distribution business.
The Oregon Liquor Control Commission would not go away. The state would still be in the business of preventing sales to minors and doing licensing.
This initiative is also, though, the Initiative for a Supermarket Revenue Monopoly.
It’s a blatant move to allow sales of liquor in supermarkets and prohibit them in smaller convenience stores. If a convenience store can sell beer, why can’t it sell liquor? What does the size of a convenience store have to do with selling liquor?
The simple answer is because supermarkets want the revenue monopoly.
This is also the Initiative to Remove $200 Million from the State Budget.
The state earns a sizable amount from taxes on liquor, and that would go away. Supporters of the ballot measure fought to ensure that was not even mentioned in the ballot title’s initial summary.
The net revenue from liquor taxes was about $435 million for the 2013-2015 biennium. That money went to various places; the state’s general fund got $247 million, local governments shared more than $150 million, $17 million was set aside for mental health, alcoholism, and drug treatment services, and $600,000 was for the Oregon Wine Board.
We don’t doubt for a second the enthusiasm of the Democratically controlled state government for taxes, but it will be a challenge to get a tax measure passed. A more responsible ballot measure would include a replacement for the lost revenue.
Selling liquor is not a core function of government. It is also not something that we believe government should do. Oregon is only one of a handful of states that still is so involved in the liquor business. We’d like to get the state out of the liquor business, too. This initiative is a poor way to do it.