Let voters decide

The Oregon Liquor Control Commission can read tea leaves. It knows there's a good chance voters would choose to get the state out of the booze business if given the opportunity.

It doesn't think that's a good idea, and it's fighting back.

To that end it has given lawmakers draft legislation that would do some but not all of what a proposed initiative petition would do with regard to liquor sales in the state. The OLCC measure would make spirits far more accessible than they are now by allowing for their sale in groceries larger than 10,000 square feet.

What it wouldn't do — and what the initiative would — is get the state out of the liquor business except as tax collector. Currently Oregon owns all the spirits sold in state-franchise stores. It purchases it, warehouses it and controls everything from pricing on down.

Were the initiative sponsored by the Northwest Grocery Association approved, nearly all that would go away. Grocers would buy direct, store for themselves and set prices according to their own needs. The state would continue to collect the same taxes on sales as it does today.

Members of the Oregon House and Senate business committees began work on the OLCC proposal Jan. 15, and it was clear they have some concerns about it.

One, Sen. Fred Girod, R-Stayton, worried that the 10,000-square-foot minimum necessary for sales would leave rural residents, in particular, with no ready access to liquor. Others worried that prices would rise under the proposal. The former is a legitimate problem, no doubt; the latter is unknowable.

Meanwhile, there also has been talk of approving the OLCC bill, then referring it to voters in the November election. There it would compete head-on with the privatization proposal, assuming enough valid signatures are gathered to put the latter on the ballot. Most likely, should both be approved, the court would rule that the one with the most votes would be declared the winner.

Short of a legislative move to end OLCC's absolute control of liquor, head-to-head ballot measures are the way to go. Both sides could make the case for what they believe is right, then let voters decide. That seems reasonable to us.

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