Thursday, July 24, 2014

Cities & counties hurt by liquor privatization

Liquor privatization has hurt local governments and their ability to provide alcohol-related public safety services according to an opinion published in today’s Seattle Times.

Though I-1183 proponents promised more money to address alcohol-related harms, funding was cut.   “In 2012, the state Legislature was balancing its budget and chose to ignore the voters and I-1183’s clear wording. Lawmakers diverted more than $100 million in liquor revenue from cities and counties to the state’s general fund,” write the authors.

They go on to note, “City and county law enforcement currently handle half of all DUI arrests, and cities employ two-thirds of the state’s public safety personnel. The Legislature’s action to reduce liquor revenues for local government is a direct cut to funding for local law enforcement.”

As those of us who advocate for substance abuse-related policy know, diversion of dedicated revenue is nothing new.  The state’s highly successful tobacco prevention program was decimated a few years ago when the legislature diverted dedicated prevention funding to the general fund.

Since even recent history apparently repeats, it is not surprising that public health advocates are concerned about marijuana revenue.  I-502 dedicates marijuana revenue for prevention programming, but how long will it be before it is diverted to the general fund, especially considering our state government still needs to fill holes in their budget?  

Local jurisdictions also have concerns about the impact of I-502 on their budgets.  The opinion piece states, “Marijuana legalization will add new costs for local law enforcement to police legal sales, crack down on the illegal black market and to enforce impaired-driving laws. However, to add insult to the injury of the liquor-revenue cuts, the Legislature has ignored cities’ and counties’ requests to recognize the local impact from marijuana legalization, and share some of the estimated millions of dollars a year in new tax revenue.”

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