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Supreme Court certifies liquor privatization ballot title


Sponsors can now begin collecting signatures

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP FILE PHOTO - A ballot fight is brewing between grocery store chains and liquor retailers.The Oregon Supreme Court on Thursday certified the ballot title for a grocer-backed ballot initiative that would privatize liquor sales in Oregon.

The certification came after the court denied a request by sponsors of Initiative Petition 71 to revise the ballot title written by the Oregon Attorney General's Office. Sponsors Gerry Dory and Lynn Gust of Wilsonville objected to a statement in the title that said the measure would "eliminate liquor revenue." They claim the Legislature still would have the authority to impose a tax on liquor — or allow local governments to do so.

The ballot certification clears the way for the sponsors to collect the 88,184 signatures needed to place the measure on the November ballot.

“We’re pleased with the court’s review is concluded and eager to begin engaging directly with Oregonians about getting the state out of the business of promoting and selling liquor,” Rudy Dory, co-founder of Bend’s employee-owned Newport Avenue Market and co-sponsor of the initiative, said in a statement.

Pamplin Media Group/EO Media GroupThe measure would end state sale and distribution of liquor and allow beer and wine retailers, including grocery stores, to sell liquor.

Privatization would result in the loss of more than $200 million in state revenue used to pay for state and local services, according to Oregonians Against The Takeover, a coalition of labor organizations, craft brewers, distillers and winemakers that opposes the ballot initiative.

Replacing that revenue might be challenging given that the Oregon Legislature needs a three-fifths majority to pass a new tax, said Paul Romain, a lobbyist for the Oregon Beer & Wine Distributors Association, which is a member of the coalition.

The measure also would likely increase the number of liquor outlets in Oregon. There were 248 liquor stores in the state, as of March 24, according to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission.

Craft beer and wine makers oppose privatization because liquor would compete with beer and wine for both store shelf space and buyers.

"If there is liquor in the store, the shelf space has to come somewhere," said Paul Romain, a lobbyist for the Oregon Beer & Wine Distributors Association. "In Washington state, a lot of the wineries that had product in stores their numbers went down because the shelf space was then used for liquor."

Oregon is one of a diminishing number of states that still regulates pricing, marketing, distribution and retail sales of liquor, according to Oregonians for Competition, a coalition of grocers, retailers, craft distillers, and consumers who support the initiative. Oregon is one of 13 states that still controls retail sales government operated stores or designated agents, according to the National Alcohol Beverage Control Association.

“We believe Oregonians are ready to end the state’s monopoly on liquor sales and allow Oregon consumers to buy liquor at qualified grocery and retail stores — just like consumers do in most other states,” said co-sponsor Lynn Gust, retired president of Portland's Fred Meyer Stores, in a statement. “The initiative will allow the state to focus more on alcohol law enforcement, which is what Oregon voters originally intended the OLCC to do.”

By Paris Achen
Portland Tribune Capital Bureau Reporter
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