CHENEY, Wash. - You may remember during last year's election, one of the biggest issues on the ballot was initiative 1183, which privatized liquor sales in Washington state. With its passage alcohol sales were handed over to private vendors on June 1st. But it hasn't exactly been an easy transition, and because of that today Spokane Attorney Kevin Roberts filed a lawsuit on behalf of several current and former liquor stores.
Prior to 1183 there were two types of liquor stores in the state: those the Liquor Control Board owned, and those it had contracts with. The stores they owned, the L.C.B. stocked the shelves, all the money went to the state, and when 1183 passed, those stores closed and people were out of work. At the contract stores, the L.C.B. still stocked the shelves, the money went to the state, but the private manager got a commission and with that commission the private managers were able to pay their employees. The owners of the contract stores thought their business wouldn't be affected too much after 1183, but that has not been the case and because of that they filed a lawsuit today.
Tillman Carr is the owner of a small liquor store in Cheney. He's one of the many people listed in the suit filed by Attorney Kevin Roberts. When 1183 passed he had a contract with the Liquor Control Board to run his store through 2016, but after the vote, the state changed the contract so it would be up on June 1st, the same day the state left the liquor business. Still, Carr says 1183 clearly states that the liquor control board had to help the contracted small businesses, even after the vote.
"The law said that the liquor board must, without limitation, use revenues from the sale of liquor board assets to prevent harm to contract liquor stores," Carr said.
Carr said the reason he stayed in business after 1183 passed was because the state confirmed with him that any sales he made to restaurant and bars would be considered wholesale. But that hasn't been the case. It's considered a retail transaction and the restaurants and bars, if they do business with Carr, they have to pay a 17% tax. If they go to a wholesale distributor, they don't have to pay that tax. As you would expect, Carr is not seeing that business.
Speaking of business, you may remember he had to privately buy his store when the law passed. Since the law took effect in June, he said his revenue took a 50% hit.
"I robbed my retirement fund to buy this, and, ya' know, if we don't survive, ya' know, I'm left with just social security," Carr said.
We reached out to the state for comment on this matter, but the woman who is in charge of responding to this lawsuit is out of the office. One staff member did say that they interpret the law differently and they do not believe these contract small businesses deserve compensation.