State Supreme Court upholds liquor privatization initiative

June 5, 2012

By Warren Kagarise

The state Supreme Court upheld a liquor privatization initiative May 31, less than 24 hours before the measure enabled liquor sales to expand statewide.

In a 5-4 ruling, justices upheld Initiative 1183, a Costco-backed measure to end the state-run liquor system. Voters approved the measure in November. In April, the state auctioned the rights to private entrepreneurs to sell liquor at former state-run stores.

Opponents said I-1183 violated the single subject rule for statewide ballot initiatives.

In addition to liquor privatization language, the initiative included a requirement for a portion of revenue from liquor license fees to be used to increase funding for local public safety programs, such as police and emergency services.

Plaintiffs argued the “fees” should have been called “taxes” in the ballot language. Such a change could have swayed voters on the initiative, plaintiffs argued.

The high court rejected the claim, and said “we will not void a law duly enacted by voters” based on the meaning of one word.

“The challenged portion of I-1183’s ballot title is not palpably misleading or false,” justices wrote.

In March, a Cowlitz County Superior Court judge upheld the measure. The main opponent of liquor privatization, the Washington Association for Substance & Violence Prevention, joined a landlord for a state-run liquor store in Longview to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court.

In a dissent, Justice Charles K. Wiggins declared the ballot measure does impose taxes.

“An initiative can impose new taxes, but the ballot title cannot misleadingly imply that it does not,” he wrote.

Issaquah-based Costco — the largest employer in the city — led the push to pass I-1183 last year. Statewide, almost 60 percent of voters supported the liquor-privatization measure.

The measure required state-run liquor stores to close and for the state to end a decades-old monopoly.

“We appreciate the court recognized that this initiative satisfies our state Constitution’s requirements and agrees that voters understood what they were voting for,” state Attorney General Rob McKenna said. “Our office argued, and the court ruled, that all the provisions of Initiative 1183 were related to its single subject, liquor, and that the subject was appropriately disclosed in the ballot title.”

Major grocery stores and big-box retailers in Issaquah started offering spirits June 1. I-1183 limits hard liquor sales to stores of at least 10,000 square feet.

The state also auctioned the rights to entrepreneurs to sell liquor at the state-run store in Town & Country Square along Northwest Gilman Boulevard and a store under construction in the Klahanie Shopping Center.

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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