"Hybrid" Liquor Proposal Still Favors Big Business

Jesse Cornett

Oregon’s liquor laws are likely to change in the coming year. Either the legislature will pass a measure next month or big business will buy a spot on the November ballot.

Today the Oregon Liquor Control Commission unveiled their “hybrid” proposal for modernizing liquor sales in Oregon. Unfortunately the proposal takes its cue from the big business sponsoring the potential ballot measure and excludes anyone with a store smaller than 10,000 square feet from carrying liquor. At 650 eligible stores in Oregon, liquor would be much more readily available under the hybrid proposal. But I just can’t help but think it is bad public policy to codify a system that we know benefits megastores and specifically excludes smaller, locally owned small businesses.

If the state fails to act, the Northwest Grocers Association (who represent Costco, Kroger and other supermarkets) will put the changes they want to make on the ballot. With Washington as the example, we know they are willing to spend endless millions of dollars to get the voters to pass a measure, and they’ve already shown they are willing to say anything.

The legislature is intended to be a deliberative process and should not have to govern with the imminent threat of a ballot measure. The current system may not be perfect, but it works well for the consumers. Remember, the pressure for changes does not come from consumers but a business group primarily interested in earning a profit. I am not chiding them for that. But I do not think they should dictate public policy in order to take more of our hard earned dollars.

I don’t disagree that the time for modernization may have arrived. But the way it’s come to the fore isn’t right. The fundamental question that remains in my mind is how to you continue to earn $200 million per year as a state, allow Wal-Mart to earn a handsome profit and not put local Oregon businesses in dire straights. Though the OLCC asserts existing stores will be maintained, this wasn’t the case in Washington even though the measures proponents the same. There is no reason to believe they would survive in Oregon.

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