Costco Leads Fight To Privatize Wash. Liquor Sales

fromNWNews

Voters in Washington state will decide whether to privatize the sale of hard liquor on Tuesday. Currently spirits can be sold only at state-run or contract liquor stores. Retail giant Costco has been pouring money — about $22 million — into advertising in favor of getting the initiative passed.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And in Washington State today, voters are deciding whether to privatize the sale of hard liquor. Now spirits are only available through state-run or contract liquor stores. Leading the fight to end the state's monopoly is the big wholesaler Costco. From the Northwest News Network, Austin Jenkins reports.

AUSTIN JENKINS, BYLINE: The Costco-backed measure would close state stores and allow some 1,400 private retailers to get in the business. At its heart, Initiative 1183 is a deregulation fight. But turn on the TV and you'll see dueling ads featuring firefighters and nurses.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV ADS)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: 1183 is clearly designed to prevent gas stations and minimarts from selling liquor.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: 1183 will expand the use of hard liquor.

JENKINS: This is the second year Costco has gone to the ballot to end state control. The Washington-based chain has pumped a record $22 million into the Yes campaign. The No side has raised about half that, mostly from out-of-state wholesalers. Initiative watcher Todd Donovan at Western Washington University says Costco enjoys a home state advantage.

TODD DONOVAN: Yeah, I think it would be a lot harder for Wal-Mart to come in and spend $20 million and try to say, you know, trust us. Costco, they're local, they may be in a better position to do that.

JENKINS: Polls show the liquor privatization measure ahead with few undecided voters left. For NPR News, I'm Justin Jenkins in Olympia.

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