Costco Continues Deregulation Push in WA

In 2011, retailer giant Costco shattered single-donor campaign contribution records in Washington State by spending more than $22 million to pass Initiative 1183 - legislation that privatized state liquor sales and allowed grocery stores to sell spirits. The privatization of alcohol sales has undoubtedly led to more alcohol-related harm in Washington: data shows that privatization leads to more alcohol consumption, more binge drinking, and more deaths per year. The only upside of passing I-1183 was that it at least contained a 17% tax on all sales - money that is sorely needed to pay for the extra costs of alcohol-related harm to society. Costco added this fee to the language when it became clear that voters would not otherwise approve an initiative that both increased alcohol availability and decreased government resources to address the consequences. Without the fee, the state of Washington would have been left with a revenue gap of hundreds of millions of dollars lost from state liquor store profits.

Unsurprisingly, Costco is not content to pay any part of the tax burden on their new product channel. In an attempt to squeeze out every last penny of profit at the expense of Washington residents, they are now petitioning the legislature to pass a special bill that would exempt them from paying the 17% fee on sales directly to restaurants. The proposed legislation, Second Special House Bill 1161, would cost the state tens of millions of dollars in revenue at a time that it is desperately trying to find more money to pay for tougher drunk driving laws and other critical public health programs. Additionally, 2SHB 1161 would unfairly tilt the playing field in Costco's favor, putting the retail behemoth at an advantage over other private retail distributors and potentially putting a thousand jobs at risk.

Costco's willingness to blatantly subvert the democratic process by buying its way into legislation has put them on public health's bad side for several years now. But Costco's latest attempt to end-run the citizens of Washington by removing the very tax mechanism that convinced voters to approve privatization in the first place represents whole new heights of deceit and greed.