Washington State’s senate ways and means committee approved a measure on Wednesday (SB 5942) that would privatize liquor distribution in the state. Since 1933 Washington has been one of 18 “control states”, where the government runs the sale and distribution of liquor. State officials say the system results in lower per-capita alcohol consumption and a reliable stream of tax revenue for government. Some lawmakers, however, think the state could make more money through privatization of the system. Others fear it could actually cost the state money.

There were initially two privatization proposals on the table. An earlier version of SB 5942 proposed leasing the wholesale distribution side of the business. Wholesale retailer Costco supported an alternate proposal, which called for complete privatization of the system and the sale of all state spirit assets. Under this alternative proposal, all state liquor stores would close their doors by September 1, 2012, and private operators would be allowed to purchase the right – via auction – to take over and run state liquor stores in Washington. The version of 5942 passed by committee directs the state to seek private sector proposals for operating the liquor distribution system. The Liquor Control Board would then decide whether to accept such a deal. The bill will now go to the full Senate.

More information on SB 5942 is available on the Washington State Legislature’s website.


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