UPDATED — Rockefeller Disputes Dzama on Liquor Privatization

Wednesday’s column by Pam Dzama, Kitsap Sun columnist, takes issue with the legislators for raising taxes during the just-ended legislative session, as well as for not taking on serious reform.

As the prime example she cites the Legislature’s failure to go for a bill by state Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, to get the state out of the liquor business. Dzama writes:

“I’m disappointed Sen. Rockefeller didn’t openly help move Sen. Sheldon’s legislation forward.”

The problem with that statement, says Rockefeller, is that he was a co-sponsor of the bill. He sent the following:

“As a co-sponsor of this bill, my commitment to follow through on my views are a matter of public record. I also spoke in favor of the bill during caucus meetings, and urged colleagues to review the recent report of the State Auditor in which his office identified several options for legislative consideration regarding the state liquor control board.

“The liquor wholesalers who complained to me about my support for privatizing liquor sales obviously had no problem finding out that I had co-sponsored this bill. One wonders why Ms. Dzama couldn’t also find that information. I think it is reasonable to request that the writer of this mis-information correct the record in her next article. Perhaps it is too much to expect an apology, but it would be appreciated. I’m hoping to see more attention to accuracy in future columns.”

Well, I gave Dzama a chance to look at Rockefeller’s response. Here is her reaction:

“The bill he co-sponsored with Sheldon is SB 6204. The digest of the proposed 1st substitute does not attempt to get the state out of the liquor business. Here’s what the digest says:

“‘Requires the liquor control board to: (1) In consultation with the office of financial management and the appropriate legislative committees, examine methods to increase efficiency and revenue through the sale of liquor in this state;

“(2) Examine the six alternatives identified in the December 2009 state government performance review which outlined opportunities for increased revenue relating to the sale and distribution of liquor; and

“‘(3) Investigate other options it deems appropriate.”

“The only bill I could find that actually does try to get the state out of the liquor business is SB 6886. Sen. Sheldon is the only sponsor. That was the bill I was talking about.

“If there’s another bill out there co-sponsored by both these Senators that attempts to get the state out of the liquor business I’m unaware of it. Thanks for letting me know his displeasure with my column and sending a copy of his letter. Someone should ask Sen. Rockefeller which bill he’s talking about.

“Thanks again, and with this information, I stand by what I wrote.”

Dzama is correct in that the bill Rockefeller co-sponsored was not the bill that would have caused the state to get out of the liquor business completely. Rockefeller co-sponsored a bill that could have eventually resulted in the state getting out of liquor selling, but for now required a study by the state’s Liquor Control Board. There is, however, some other context to consider here.

First off, the bill that would have gotten the state out of the business completely went nowhere. Sheldon said Senate leadership wanted nothing to do with it. Sheldon has been proposing measures year after year that would incrementally get the state out of the business. This year he thought given the budget climate there might be more of an appetite for a fell swoop. Though there was ample conversation about the issue, no one in the leadership wanted to consider making that big a change.

The Sheldon bill Rockefeller did co-sponsor referred to a study done by the state auditor’s office, a study that recommended six alternatives to the current model. It estimated the state could save $277 million over five years by changing how it sells liquor. The bill was heard in the Senate Labor, Commerce & Consumer Protection Committee and was sent to Rules.

While the legislation would have only mandated a study, if you read the bill report it’s clear that the arguments for and against the bill are all about liquor privatization. Some grocers were for it. Others were against it, saying they would never be able to compete for franchises with bigger operators. Other arguments against it were that the state should maintain control. So while the bill only called for a study, it was clearly feared by opponents that the measure would lead to privatization.

The other part to consider here is that the bill that did get heard had a companion bill in the House sponsored by state Rep. Gary Alexander, R-Olympia. It was co-sponsored by state Rep. Jan Angel, R-Port Orchard. While many might favor a wholesale exit from the state, knowing that there is resistance from leadership can cause a legislator to back something that has a better chance of being considered and maybe even passed. Sheldon was right in his guess that the idea would get more traction this year. Nothing passed, but it would be no stretch to say the idea ad more legs in 2010 than it has in a while.

I asked Sheldon about the issue and he doesn’t express any disappointment with Rockefeller. Sheldon places the blame for neither bill getting anywhere on Senate leadership. “I don’t know that Rockefeller could have done much. He’s supportive of the concept, but it’s an uphill climb with leadership,” Sheldon said.

UPDATE: I took a look at something else today I wish I had looked at before posting this originally. The bill Rockefeller co-sponsored was changed pretty dramatically in committee. The original bill called for a report on a method that would privatize liquor sales and still generate the same revenue as under the current system. Here’s some of the text.

“Therefore, the legislature directs the liquor control board and the department of revenue, with assistance from legislative staff and the office of financial management, to present a report to the legislature no later than December 1, 2010, on a recommended method and rates of liquor taxation that would generate the same future projected revenue for the state and local jurisdictions as under the current state control system. The report may also include recommendations on tax enforcement and simplification to the current system of liquor taxation and distribution of revenues.”

The intent of the bill is pretty well spelled out in the beginning.

“The legislature intends for privatization of retail and distribution of liquor to result in a system that is more efficient than public sector retail and distribution.”

Rockefeller’s name was on that bill as a co-sponsor.

One thought on “UPDATED — Rockefeller Disputes Dzama on Liquor Privatization

  1. What I find more interesting is if the folks who were bashing Pam over on her column , a normal weekly event by the resident party faithful will now have a sudden change of seeing things after finding out Phil is against the idea of Washington State being in the Liquor business.

    If Pam is so thoughtless because of speaking to this , Is Phil now also because he agrees? Political loyalty apparently makes people defend positions and attack positions based on that loyalty instead of their own critical thinking .

    Glad to hear Phil is against our state being involved in private business functions . I believe the state has enough on their plate.

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